Under the direction of the Community Outreach Co-Chair, Cliff Parkinson, UCLI has been creating new connections with vital groups in Utah – the tribal communities in whose traditional and ancestral homelands we live and work. UCLI respects the sovereignty of Utah’s tribes and respects the unique political relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government. We hope to find new ways to work together to ensure access to legal education and legal representation for members of Utah’s tribal communities. We were honored to present at the 17th annual Governor’s Native American Summit in June 2023, as well as to attend the 30th Annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference in August 2023. UCLI especially hopes to strengthen pathway programs for Native American youth interested in the legal profession. It is our hope to facilitate pipelines to help them attend law school. To this end, UCLI is launching a new pilot initiative: the Utah Tribal Intern Partnership.
The Utah Tribal Intern Partnership pairs an intern with a legal employer specializing in Native American law. This semester, Tsosie Law PLLC has agreed to partner with us to provide relevant work for an intern. Paul Tsosie is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation – Blacksheep Clan, and an impressive legal practitioner. He focuses on Criminal Defense, Child Welfare, as well as Federal Indian Law and Policy. Mr. Tsosie has represented various different Indian tribes as general counsel and served a 3-year political appointment as the Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, Washington D.C. Working with Tsosie Law this semester is UCLI intern Sunni Begay – a member of the Navajo Nation and a first generation college graduate with a BA in Political Science and minor in Legal Studies and American Indian Studies. She is passionate about access to legal representation and has worked with various Indigenous initiatives to educate the community about Native culture and issues.
A month into the internship, Mr. Tsosie describes his experience as very positive, as there are very limited opportunities for Native American students to gain valuable experience encouraging them to seek a future in the legal profession. Usually, Mr. Tsosie only has the opportunity to work with currently enrolled Native American law students. However, this partnership has been beneficial not only to Sunni, but to the general Native American community itself in Utah. For example, Sunni helped Mr. Tsosie prepare for a meeting with tribal leaders, lawyers, state leadership, and other community leaders regarding the potential changes and improvements to the Indian Child Welfare system in the State of Utah. Sunni’s research helped guide the group to a better understanding of what other tribes were doing across the country.
Sunni explains that for her, this experience so far has been essential to learning about different issues in Federal Indian law, especially pertaining to Utah. She has been able to learn about the various ways the Indian Child Welfare Act has been implemented in Utah and future legislation to continue to strengthen child welfare for Native children in the state. She has also had the opportunity to gather data surrounding the Native legal community in Utah for the betterment of Indigenous legal relations with other organizations and UCLI. This internship has expanded her view on the different ways legal services can be helpful to making a positive impact on her community and other Native peoples.
UCLI hopes in the future to expand its partnerships with legal practitioners and students from Native American communities, and to leverage the incredible strength and talent that exists in these spaces for the benefit of Utahns everywhere. If you are a legal employer and are interested in accepting a UCLI intern in a future semester, reach out to .