Changes in Indian law, reservations to be examined at Canby lecture

Reid Peyton Chambers, a former associate solicitor for Indian Affairs with the U.S Department of Interior and founding partner in a law firm dedicated to representing Indian tribes nationwide, will deliver the Seventh Annual William C. Canby Jr. Lecture on Friday, Jan. 31, at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Chambers, who has dedicated his career to teaching Indian law and representing Indian tribes, will give a talk titled “Reflections on the Changes in Indian Law and Indian Reservations from 1969 to the Present.”

“It’s a personal story for me,” Chambers said. “I’ll be giving my assessment of the changes I’ve seen on reservations and in Indian law since I first began my career in the late 1960s.”

Chambers said one of those significant changes began when Indian leaders on reservations began pushing for tribal sovereignty.

“Before the 1960s the federal government was paternalistic when it came to how they controlled Indian reservations,” Chambers said. “Tribal leaders wanted to get rid of that kind of control and establish their own governments.”

Chambers said that beginning in the late 1960s, the federal government, for virtually the first time ever, became willing to listen to the demands of Indian leaders, and policies from both Lyndon B. Johnson’s Administration and Richard M. Nixon’s Administration led to tribal governments reasserting sovereignty over their reservations. Chambers said it then became the goal of lawyers representing tribes to affirm in court that tribes did have a right to govern their reservations, as well as to protect tribes’ other treaty rights, such as to water and to hunt and fish.

The lecture, presented by the Indian Legal Program at the College of Law at Arizona State University, is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. in the Great Hall of Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus. It is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a reception in the Steptoe & Johnson Rotunda.

The lecture honors Judge William C. Canby Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a founding faculty member of the College of Law. Judge Canby taught the first classes in Indian law there and was instrumental in creating the ILP.

Chambers served as Associate Solicitor of Indian Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior from 1973 to 1976. He was the department’s chief legal officer responsible for Indian and Alaska Native matters. Chambers then joined the late Marvin J. Sonosky, a longtime attorney for Indian tribes, and Harry R. Sachse to found the law firm that is now Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry, LLP. The firm specializes in Indian law.

Robert Clinton, Foundation Professor of Law at the College of Law, who invited Chambers to speak at the College of Law, said Chambers experience in the field over the last four decades makes him the ideal candidate to speak to the changes that have taken place.

“He has the broadest and widest perspective of anyone in the country on how Indian law has developed,” Clinton said.

Chambers has taught a seminar on federal Indian law at Georgetown University Law Center and at Yale Law School. He also co-authored the 1982-revised edition of Felix S. Cohen’s landmark treatise on federal Indian law and has published numerous articles.

Chambers taught law for three years as a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and worked extensively with the Native American Rights Fund and California Indian Legal Services.

A live webcast of this event will be available at