Community Education

By Mark Vezzola, CILS Escondido office Directing Attorney

This blog entry is devoted to a concept rather than a specific issue. California Indian Legal Services has made community education a priority since its creation in 1967. In addition to representing and advocating on behalf of Native American individuals, tribes, and organizations, CILS is committed to sharing information and resources related to federal Indian and Tribal law with all sectors of our community, fellow members of the state bar to law enforcement officers to Tribal elders.

Figure 1 – CILS Escondido office Directing Attorney Mark Vezzola presenting to a group of San Diego City Attorneys in 2019.

In normal times, grants allow CILS attorneys to attend and participate in conferences and presentations across California. These are not normal times, however. Since the COVID-19 pandemic effectively stopped in-person events, CILS adapted by educating groups and individuals through virtual and remote means such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms. Read about some of the Escondido office’s recent community education engagements below:

Addressing Tribal Court-State Court Forum – August 13, 2020

The California Tribal Court-State Court Forum, a statewide entity made up of Tribal and state court judges that advises the California Judicial Council on overlapping jurisdictional issues, asked me to present on potential issues resulting from the Supreme Court’s monumental ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020), 591 U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 2452. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the federal government never disestablished the Muscogee Creek Reservation in Oklahoma, meaning the eastern half of the state remains Indian country for purposes of Tribal jurisdiction.

Tribal Will Clinic – October 27-28, 2020

The Escondido office of CILS supervised ASU law students in hosting a will clinic for southern California to encourage Tribal members to create executed wills, powers of attorney, and/or healthcare directives. As the supervising attorney, I met with law students in private to discuss clients’ wishes and reviewed preliminary drafts of estate planning documents. We protected client privacy and safety by using confidential online meeting rooms and observed all safety protocols to allow twenty Tribal members to sign their documents at the Tribal administration center.

Fair Housing Conference Panel – February 10, 2021

Last month, I participated in a panel called “Sources and Applications of Law under Reservation and Urban Housing Programs” as part of a statewide fair housing conference on the history leading to loss of land and limited housing options in Indian country. All planning and presenting was remote thanks to PowerPoint and Zoom.

What kind of community education does CILS offer? Well, this blog is just one example of how CILS shares information and ideas related to our work. Other written materials developed by CILS and available at no cost include handouts, resource guides, and even an ICWA bench guide for state court judges. In terms of presentations, CILS participates in conferences and panels across the country, on a variety of topics including but not limited to the following:

  • Development of Tribal Economic Development Corporations
  • Public Law 280 (for state, local, and Tribal law enforcement, government leaders)
  • Indian Child Welfare Act (developments, regulations, case law updates)
  • AIPRA and estate planning (wills, powers of attorney, healthcare directives)
  • Domestic Violence (rights, resources, prevention, etc.)

As they say, the show must go on. Like all of us, CILS anxiously awaits life returning to normal, whatever that is, and remains available to educate the community on our work and updates and developments in federal Indian and Tribal law.