Denver Bar Association
December 2012
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From the President - Another Step Toward Access to Justice for All: Native American Law Clinic Launched

by Jim Benjamin

Jim Benjamin
M

 
y wife Isabell and I were dining at The Fort restaurant when one of their strolling minstrels, a Native American flute player, entertained us both with his music and storytelling.

For years, I have enjoyed the Native American flute music and songs when walking to Concourse A by means of the pedestrian overpass from the main Jeppesen Terminal at the Denver International Airport. But, according to our flautist, a member of the Blackfoot Nation, the flute music and chanting at DIA are reparations for the facility having been built upon Native American burial grounds. He told us the construction on DIA was halted when an excavation uncovered the burial grounds. Leaders of several tribes and the airport administration came to an agreement to seal the area, to mark it on all maps so as to avoid it ever being desecrated again, and to forever more soothe the resting spirits with dance songs and flute.

Recognizing his story was entertainment, I made some half-hearted attempts to verify the story, finding a number of conspiracy theory websites. Each site reiterated the story but added its own spin. One lost credibility when it interwove alien influences and another when it described a series of seven levels below DIA that would house people in the event of a cataclysmic disaster and from whence a spacecraft would relocate the human race onto another planet.

Fun stories, but why is this relevant to DBA activities? Whether DIA is truly constructed over an ancient Indian burial ground, the American Indian heritage is a deep, colorful, and rich part of the history of our city and state (and country).

Native Americans are also in need of legal services, and our members of the DBA, through its Metro Volunteer Lawyers, have answered the call.

The Native American Law Clinic provides pro bono services to our Native American population in a once-a-month nightly clinic the first Wednesday of each month. The program was launched in April by two Native American attorneys: MVL’s Executive Director Dianne Van Voorhees and MVL Board Member Danielle L. Demkowicz. MVL is working with the Denver Indian Center to provide this important new service.

At the clinic, attendees are greeted by attorney volunteers of the DBA who listen to their legal issues and provide on-the-spot advice. In some instances, the advice may be simply a referral to a lawyer specializing in the area of their problem or to an administrative body that can assist them to resolve their problem. Most of the issues are the same character as those served by many of our other clinics, such as employment, domestic relations, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. Occasionally, a problem pertaining to tribal or federal law and associated jurisdictional issues may arise, but there are volunteers on hand who specialize in these areas as well.

I recall seeing the movie "Flapping Eagle" in my cinematography class at the University of Southern California in the late 1960s. I subtitled my review of the film "Why Not Equal Rights for These Americans, Too?" Now, I borrow that subtitle to call to arms the DBA membership to join in the effort to assist this underserved section of our community.

We are in need of volunteers and I hope our members will step up to the plate.

Those whose land we inherited (a euphemistic word for "stole") are in serious need of our services. For the reputation of our profession, for the betterment of our community, for provision of desperately needed services to those unable to otherwise afford them, please travel to the Denver Indian Center, at 4407 Morrison Road in Denver. The clinic starts at 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month (Dec. 5) to offer these great Americans a hand. To find out more about the Native American Law Clinic, visit bit.ly/TvTjkH or contact Dianne Van Voorhees at diannev@denbar.org.

A mentor, who will make your first volunteer appearance painless, if not downright enjoyable, will be waiting at the door to welcome you with open arms and assist you with your advice and counseling. Substantive knowledge in one or more of the areas in which the issues ordinarily arise of course would be a huge bonus, but it is not a prerequisite. Persons with the necessary expertise in the substantive law areas will be there to associate with you in providing sage advice. D


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