Expert in Native American intellectual property joins ASU Law Indian Legal Program

Trevor Reed

Trevor Reed, an expert in Native American cultural and intellectual property issues, is the newest faculty member of ASU Law Indian Legal Program.


Trevor Reed, an expert in Native American cultural and intellectual property issues, is the newest faculty member of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, joining the esteemed Indian Legal Program as an associate professor of law.

Reed comes to ASU Law from New York, where he earned dual graduate degrees from Columbia University’s law school and graduate school of arts and sciences and gained national prominence as director of the Hopi Music Repatriation Project.

“Trevor’s research and the work he’s done with the repatriation project is beyond impressive,” said ASU Law Associate Dean of Faculty Zachary Kramer. “His passion and innovative spirit make him a perfect fit for ASU Law and our Indian Legal Program, and we are extremely pleased to welcome him to our faculty.”

Executive Director Kate Rosier says Reed is an ideal addition to the Indian Legal Program’s faculty.

“Our program always strives to make an impact in Indian Country. We do this through our alumni’s important legal work with tribes, the projects and cases we take on in the Indian Legal Clinic, and the early outreach and pre-law work we are doing through the Native American Pipeline to Law initiative. Trevor is a perfect addition to the ILP to continue this mission and work,” Rosier said.

The move to Arizona represents a homecoming of sorts, as Reed grew up dividing his time between his hometown of Seattle and the Hopi village of Hotevilla, Arizona.

“I got to experience both extremes, living in the wettest place and the driest place,” Reed said with a laugh.

Musical interest leads to law school

Reed’s diverse background extends well beyond the climates he grew up in. A Hopi member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he attended Brigham Young University as an undergrad, where he worked as a journalist for Eagle’s Eye magazine, a university publication devoted to multicultural issues. Music has been a lifelong passion, and even within that realm, his interests cover a broad spectrum including classical, rock and indigenous music. He grew up performing both in the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and as a bassist in garage bands inspired by Nirvana and the city’s grunge culture.

After graduating from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in music composition in 2005, Reed joined the Utah Symphony and Opera in Salt Lake City as artistic and operations coordinator. And that’s where his musical interests began to intersect with the legal world.

“I was in charge of contracts with guest artists,” Reed said. “We did a lot of work with musicians’ unions, but by and large, a majority of my time was spent planning and then executing concert performances. You wouldn’t think it would be so rigorous, but actually Utah’s symphony is one of 17 full-time orchestras in the country, so it was there that I really learned a lot about law and the arts. I wasn’t a lawyer, but I did a ton of transactional work, and it was a lot of fun.”

In 2007, he moved to New York and enrolled at Columbia, beginning a decade-plus of music-inspired study that would result in three master’s degrees, a PhD and a Juris Doctor. He initially went to Columbia hoping to break into the music industry, figuring his best shot at a career in the arts would require being in either New York or Los Angeles.

“When I got there, it opened up so many new issues for me,” Reed said. “It just so happens that Columbia owns this massive archive of Native American musical recordings that I don’t know if anybody had really ever heard about. When I learned about that, it sparked an interest in wanting to return music and other types of archival collections, artifacts and other types of intellectual property back to Native American tribes.”

That led to the Hopi Music Repatriation Project, a joint project of the Hopi Tribe and Columbia University, which Reed began leading as a master’s degree student. Think Indiana Jones, the fictitious archaeologist and university professor, but the complete opposite. Instead of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” plundering wondrous works from indigenous cultures, it was “Returners of the Lost Art.” The project focused not only on returning recordings and rights, but also working with tribal leaders, educators and activists to develop contemporary uses for the materials.

“I stayed on at Columbia well after my business degree had finished, and I joined the PhD program in ethnomusicology, which is essentially the anthropology of music,” Reed said. “And we just set to work on this project, and it carried through law school, and I was able to refine my work in copyright and cultural property. It’s been an interesting ride.”

When asked why he applied for law school, Reed said it was merely an extension of his research interests.

“The focus of my PhD program in ethnomusicology was to understand how intellectual property affects people’s lives on the ground, and how it shapes societies that are not used to copyright or those types of frameworks,” he said. “I was preparing to go out and do my field research, and I realized that there was this whole piece of the equation that was missing. I wanted to understand the law, I wanted to understand how lawyers think about the law, how law has come to shape the creative industries, and why intellectual property law plays a role in the way that innovation happens in the U.S. and abroad.”

While continuing his PhD studies, he was accepted into Columbia’s law school. As Reed said, it was convenient — he could simply walk across the street and start taking his law courses — but a big change.

“It was a world of difference,” he said. “It took a lot of getting used to. Legal training is so different from the PhD training that I had. It was like learning a whole new language, a whole new way of doing scholarship and doing research. Fortunately, it has been a very productive place to be: between two disciplines, music and law. I’ve been able to venture into new areas that I never would have thought of.”

ASU Law the perfect home

Several years ago, he met Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, faculty director of the Indian Legal Program. She was intrigued with his research work and the repatriation project, and she suggested he look into ASU Law once he graduated.

“When I interviewed with the faculty, it was amazing to hear about all the innovative work happening at ASU Law,” he said. “Especially how so many faculty are engaged with Native American issues. And I was able to have a really insightful and deep conversation about the issues that I have been working on with faculty from very diverse areas. And I fell in love with the institution.”

He also got a chance to meet with the students of the Indian Legal Program and said he was blown away by both the innovation of their work and the passion for what they’re doing.

“I wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “I did receive offers from other institutions, but ASU Law really has everything that I wanted, and it also feels like the right place for me to be to expand on the research that I’m doing to benefit indigenous groups in the area.”

Ferguson-Bohnee agrees that Reed and the Indian Legal Program are a great match.

“Trevor’s energy, ideas and commitment to Indian Country fit perfectly with the Indian Legal Program,” she said. “As a rising star in the field of Indian law, he has already contributed to reshaping the cultural property discussion for indigenous peoples, and will continue to help us rethink indigenous rights across disciplines.”

Reed said he has always been impressed with the scholarship that has come out of ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program, pointing specifically to landmark work in the areas of constitutional law, tribal sovereignty, economic development and voting rights.

“The faculty have done so much to advance tribal and federal Indian law. The students are a diverse group, and yet very united. I’m extremely excited to be working with both the students and the faculty of the program and feel privileged to play a small role researching and teaching with them,” he said.

In addition to ILP courses, Reed will be teaching courses on copyright and trademarks, while also continuing his research.

“One of the big things that I’ve been working on is trying to find ways to help tribes develop their intellectual property infrastructure,” he said. “Essentially, trying to help them develop legal systems that will help them to promote and protect creativity and innovation happening on tribal lands. Many tribes already have systems in place that help them determine who owns creative works and technologies, whether it’s music, art, medicine or other innovations. They have customs and norms for deciding how those things circulate and who profits from them. Unfortunately, those customs and norms don’t often get translated into our European-American legal system very well. So what I’m hoping to do is work at that intersection, trying to bring those concepts into dialogue with our global intellectual property frameworks.”

That type of impactful outreach is the foundation on which the Indian Legal Program is built.

“Trevor wants to make a difference and help tribes,” Rosier said. “He wants students’ research projects to be helpful and meaningful to tribes. With Trevor on our team, we will be able to reach more people and continue to build partnerships with tribes in Arizona and across the country.”

In addition, he will continue with his repatriation efforts, trying to ensure that tribes can reclaim intellectual property from museums, archives and other institutions.

“I’m a part of a working group that’s actively trying to develop model legal agreements — repatriation agreements, for example — between museums and Native nations, so that you can have an easier, more efficient flow of their creative, ceremonial or cultural materials back to tribes, including their IP rights,” he said. “I’m also really interested in the music industry outside of Native American issues, specifically how intellectual property law is changing, given digital technology. I’m exploring the concept of fair use in light of global conversations about cultural appropriation and social inequality, and my research will focus a lot on that.”

An advocate for students, tribes

What does Reed want ASU Law’s students and faculty to know about him?

“The first thing I want them to know is that my door is always open,” he said. “Law school is a hard period of anybody’s life. And having a faculty advocate in your court is always important. That’s how it was for me. I’ve had some of the best faculty mentors that I could imagine in my graduate training. I’m there, I want to support the students where they’re going. That’s my first priority.”

And his open-door policy extends beyond ASU Law’s Beus Center for Law and Society, to all corners of the state.

“One of the first things that I’m planning to do is to hit the road to visit each and every one of our tribes in Arizona, to start a dialogue with them,” he said. “I know there are already deep and long-lasting relationships between the ILP and Arizona tribes, and I want to continue to develop these relationships, especially around issues of cultural property. And to listen. To find out what issues are on their minds and how I can utilize my own resources and also hopefully draw upon the intellectual power of our students to help advance some of these issues for them.”

And as a happy father of seven children, Reed has developed some pretty good listening skills. He has five daughters and two sons, and his children range in age from 10 years old to a newborn daughter.

“I love kids; I’m a family guy,” he said. “I really appreciate the chance to be able to raise my kids in an environment like Phoenix.”

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