After the Webinar: Tribal Law and Animal Law. Q&A with Jessica Chapman

Webinar presenter  Jessica Chapman answered a number of your questions after her webinar, Tribal Law and Animal Law: What Animal Welfare Professionals Need to Know. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: So, for point of clarification. Going way back to the beginning of the presentation. There are 574 federally recognized tribes, and then there’s an additional 400? Can you walk us through that again? 

Jessica Chapman:  Yes, so there are 574 federally recognized Indigenous Nations, and at least 400 federally unrecognized Nations on the land on which the United States exists. I would argue that 400 is incomplete, because, oftentimes, the federal government doesn’t collect census data—or focus on census data accuracies—for communities and related information that it doesn’t recognize. So, there are almost 1,000 currently existing Nations. Also, this number is historically incomplete because of all of the different Nations and Indigenous Peoples that have been exterminated (genocide) throughout the United States’ history and through the United States’ interactions with Indigenous Nations during its existence.


Audience Question: There was a book about tribal law that you mentioned earlier, what was that one again? 

Jessica Chapman:  American Indian law in a nutshell by William Canby, Jr. Canby is a senior judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and a law professor at Arizona State University. Even though he’s not a member of an Indigenous Nation, he is considered to have become the authority on Indian law, as it’s called, at least from the American perspective. I think the book provides a compassionate perspective toward Indigenous Nations, and to the legal gymnastics United States courts, its federal government, and states have forced upon Indigenous Nations. The book was really good about showing how inconsistent court opinions, legislation, and policies are toward Indigenous Nations; identifying ulterior motives of the federal government and particular states toward particular Nations, depending on the case or situation; and explaining ulterior motives courts may have had in publishing opinions, whether at the trial, appellate, or Supreme Court level.


Audience Question: So, a quick follow-up to that one, is it still understandable for us non-lawyers in the audience? 

Jessica Chapman: Yes, it is. The Nutshell series has published volumes for a lot of different legal fields, and there’s one on animal law, too. These books are short and concise. They respect everyone’s intelligence, but they’re written clearly and concisely. They provide key information that is important for legislation, court opinions, and other relevant information specific to the topic of the nutshell volume.

Host:  In plain English.

Jessica Chapman: Yes. The American Indian Law in a nutshell volume, even being concise, is still 585 pages. So, there’s a lot to read, but I highly recommend it, and the whole Nutshell Series.


Audience Question: Have you ever collaborated with the Indigenous Environmental Network? 

Jessica Chapman: I don’t think I’ve heard of them, but I’m going to look them up as soon as we get off this presentation. So, thank you, Katherine. I appreciate you recommending that organization.


Audience Question: If we’re with an animal welfare agency and either have not a working relationship, or maybe even a poor working relationship with our tribal counterparts, now that we’ve heard your presentation, what steps would you recommend that we start with and in order to start repairing or creating a positive working relationship? 

Jessica Chapman:

Great question. I would say it really depends on the situation and the factors that are involved. But, I would start out by writing a letter and directing the letter to the Nation’s attorney general, tribal elders, and/or leadership counsel, and explain your status (organizational changes, changes in perspectives, reflection on past interactions, etc.) in current times. I would completely and transparently acknowledge the things that may have caused mishaps between your organization and the Nation with whom you are reaching out. I would apologize, even if you weren’t the one who committed the mishaps. But, maybe your organization did, and explain how you and the organization are in a new place, and that you would really like to collaborate if the Nation is open to it. And, then try not to push yourself onto them. My experience has been that when—at least with different Indigenous Nations—you insert yourself it causes more pushback. As an external, advocating organization, you want to be there as a resource when a Nation is ready to work with you, decides the Nation needs you, and understands why you would be worth that time and effort to pursue collaboration because oftentimes Nations have many different issues their communities are dealing with. Their time and effort have to be really worth it to them. All that being said, I know that this might not sound helpful, but I think it can be uplifting, relationships take time, and they also are multi-layered, as everybody in this audience, I know, is aware. And so, if you present that letter, and you offer your support, you know you’re there for those communities when they’re ready if that path is one the communities choose to pursue. Perhaps in the letter, you can ask the Nation’s leadership whether they are okay with you reaching out to them every few months or every year, and just seeing where the Nation is at, and seeing if they would be open to that level of communication and interaction. Then, with their consent, you and your organization would need to stick to your word but also avoid any pushiness. I think it could do a lot to mend issues.

If you are an entity that doesn’t have any experience with the Indigenous Nation you want to approach, I would also recommend writing a letter or trying to call and explain why you want to reach out to them, honestly. You could offer the resources that you can provide, or the different types of collaboration you’re interested in. But, through all that communication, show genuine deference to the Nation, show your understanding of they’re the decision-making authority, show that you recognize your role as an ally and supportive advocate and that you’re there to support them and not dictate. Then, see how the Nation wants to take that information.

Generally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to mend relationships. And, I commend you for doing that really difficult work. If you want a more in-depth conversation about this, please email me. And, we can set up a meeting and talk about it.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Tribal Law and Animal Law: What Animal Welfare Professionals Need to Know

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