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ASU Law launches first-ever Indian gaming and self-governance programs

Students now have the opportunity to earn master’s degrees, gain specialized expertise

photo of Ann Marie Bledsoe-Downes and Lawrence Roberts

Ann Marie Bledsoe-Downes and Lawrence Roberts, faculty leadership of ASU Law’s new Indian gaming and self-governance programs, speak to students at last fall’s Indian Legal Program welcome dinner.

September 30, 2020

Continuing to grow its renowned Indian Legal Program (ILP), the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University has launched the nation’s first programs in Indian gaming and self-governance, further expanding students’ opportunities to land meaningful careers and make an impact in tribal communities.

ASU Law Dean Douglas Sylvester wanted to establish the new programs to further the college’s commitment to serving the educational needs of tribal nations. “With the addition of our Indian gaming and tribal self-governance programs, we are building upon our world-class Indian Legal Program to ensure that our students receive the best possible education and real-world experience that they wouldn’t get anywhere else,” Sylvester said.

Heading up the programs are national experts Lawrence Roberts and Ann Marie Bledsoe-Downes, both of whom served in leadership roles in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs under former President Barack Obama’s administration. Roberts, the programs’ full-time executive director and professor of practice, is a citizen of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin. Roberts served over four years in leadership positions in the Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, including acting assistant secretary, leading Indian affairs for the last year of the Obama administration. Roberts previously served as general counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal agency responsible for the regulation of Indian gaming.

Bledsoe-Downes, director of the programs and professor of practice, is executive vice president of community impact and engagement at Ho-Chunk, Inc. She teaches a class in Washington, D.C., focused on federal advocacy and a class at Ho-Chunk, Inc. in Nebraska. She previously served as deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development in the Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs and as the acting director of the Bureau of Indian Education. An ASU Law alum, she also was the executive director of ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program and prior to that, director of the ILP’s graduate programs.

The Indian gaming and self-governance programs offer a focused degree in the Master of Legal Studies (MLS) and Master of Laws (LLM). The two distinct areas of emphasis provide students with the opportunity to pursue a broad career path in Indian gaming or tribal self-governance from executive positions with tribes and tribal entities, tribal elected officials and other leadership or management roles in congressional, federal, state and local government.

“Tribes and other employers are investing resources in on-the-job training because these focused master's degree programs are not offered by any other law school in the country,” Roberts said. “Our graduates will be able to hit the ground running, saving both time and resources for a broad spectrum of employers – tribes, federal agencies, congressional staff and state agencies. We’re building off of more than 30 years of excellence at the ILP and this is another step to further that excellence.”

ASU Law is invested in ensuring students have the individualized support they deserve throughout the graduate degree experience. Unique to ASU Law, Bledsoe-Downes’ focus is working individually with each Indian gaming and tribal self-governance student to provide them personalized assistance with everything from admissions and financial aid to course planning and career development. Students will be part of the broader ILP community, joining dozens of Native students from tribes across the country with immediate access to mentoring from faculty that has more than 50 collective years of experience in Indian Country – in-depth experience specific to Indian gaming and tribal self-governance.

“We want to build career prospects for our students and see a strong cohort come through the programs and be excited and pleased about their experience,” Bledsoe-Downes said. “Because once they graduate they will have every opportunity to be placed in tribal communities or in agencies that serve tribal communities and governments.”

Added Roberts, “Success is our graduates being placed in the jobs that they desire at the level that they desire. And really helping those tribes and other employers across the country by providing them with our graduates who can step seamlessly into their needs.’”

With the Indian gaming focus area, ASU Law is providing in-depth courses for students on the regulation, compliance and implementation of Indian gaming. Indian gaming generates annual revenues in excess of $33 billion with more than 680,000 employees. ASU Law’s MLS degree will equip professionals with the essential legal components of Indian gaming to excel in careers that intersect with Indian gaming.

“ASU is a very fine institution that has spread a lot of good will, energy and education to Indian Country and received from Indian Country,” said National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernest Stevens Jr. “Our tribal gaming industry houses a powerhouse of expertise and knowledge. It’s an honor to work with ASU Law to help develop a solid and successful degree program.”

Similarly, the self-governance emphasis is designed to educate students, whether they desire to work for tribes, the federal government or states, in really understanding the legal framework of the tribal-federal relationship, the federal programs and statutes that promote tribal self-governance and the implementation of that legal framework.

“Tribes are implementing a number of federal programs through self-governance,” Roberts said. “Our focused degree programs are tailored for professionals who work in this area to really understand the fundamentals of tribal sovereignty and the federal statutes that promote tribal self-governance.”

Added Bledsoe-Downes, “For every new legislative initiative, case and agency ruling, we want our students to have the real-world skills they’ll need to be at the forefront of advancing these issues.”

Students have the flexibility to attend classes full or part time, in person or online and at ASU Law’s campuses in Phoenix and Washington, D.C., and in the future, Los Angeles.

“We’re excited about our existing partnerships with the National Indian Gaming Association and the Self-Governance Communication and Education Tribal Consortium to provide our students with the insights they’ll need to land their dream jobs,” Roberts said. “In an increasingly specialized and competitive environment, ASU offers these focused areas of study as a pathway to jobs – and ultimately, that’s what makes ASU Law so unique and special.”

Kate Rosier, ASU Law’s assistant dean of institutional progress and executive director of the ILP, said she is excited to see how the Indian gaming and self-governance programs will continue to grow the national legacy of the ILP.

“When I think about the ILP and what we’ve accomplished over the last 30-plus years – it’s about bridging the practitioner and academic experience, so that we are preparing our students and helping them to achieve their career goals,” Rosier said. “Our accomplished faculty with broad Native experiences that span decades are here to provide our students with the best educational experience and help them gain the jobs that align with their personal interests and choices. I can’t wait to see how our new Indian gaming and self-governance programs develop.”

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