Indigenous Law Course Ushers In First of Many Courses Offered at Microcampus

March 21, 2023

This January marked a significant milestone in the partnership between the University of Arizona and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Professors Robert A. Williams Jr., James Diamond (SJD, ’14 ), and Francisco Olea (JD, ’18) delivered the first course offered at the new Pascua Yaqui Tribe University of Arizona microcampus.

Professor Robert Williams (center) with students.png

Professor Robert Williams (center) with students

The course, Comparative Legal Systems and their Role in Nation Building, investigates the role that domestic, international, and tribal customary law play in the lives of Indigenous peoples and in their on-going efforts to secure and protect their lands and resources and their rights of equality, tribal self-governance, and self-determination. The course focused specifically on United States federal Indian law and policy compared with protection and promotion of Indigenous peoples’ rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The course also featured sessions on Tribal gaming law as it relates to federal Indian law and the complexities of criminal jurisdiction in Indian country.

Professor Olea lecturing on tribal gaming law.jpeg

Professor Olea lecturing on tribal gaming law

The course also brought Professor Francisco Olea full circle. As a child, Olea attended Hohokam Middle School, the site of the new Pascua Yaqui Tribe University of Arizona microcampus. This January he co-taught the first course at the micro-campus, a significant milestone in the continued development of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s governing institutions and higher education capacity.

"Teaching in the same place I attended for middle school in the mid 90’s was surreal. When I first walked into the campus, I was immediately taken back to my teenage years and running around the campus with either my instrument, my soccer cleats, or my track uniform and spikes. I can’t explain the amount of nostalgia that overwhelmed me at first – though it plateaued in some form of catharsis as I realized that this is exactly the place I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do. I’m blessed and privileged to be able to return to my old middle school and lecture on the things that have kept me busy over the last 25 years. It’s almost been 30 years since I roamed those halls, and it doesn’t feel a tad different at all. I genuinely believe the microcampus will serve as an excellent resource for the community, providing access to all that may not have the means or resources to travel across town in pursuit of their academic endeavors. The intimacy of the learning environment also lends for great discussions and takes away from some of that initial shock for those coming onto a university campus for the first time," said Olea.

The new microcampus is the result of a university strategic plan initiative to better serve Native American communities. It is also the latest development stemming from an agreement between the university and the tribe, signed last year, to help tribal members more easily access higher education and workforce training programs.

To start, the microcampus will offer the College of Law's Indigenous Governance Program's Masters of Professional Studies degree and the Native Nations Institute's Continuing Education Certificate in Indigenous Governance. The college plans to offer the Bachelor of Arts in Law – one of the university's fastest-growing programs – once the first programs are up and running.