Professor shares expertise at Indigenous Law Center

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Kate Fort was one of the first two recipients of the Indigenous Law Certificate from Michigan State University College of Law --and has been involved with the MSU Indigenous Law & Policy Center since its inception seven years ago.

Currently the Center's acting associate director, staff attorney and adjunct professor, Fort joined the team in 2005 as the Indigenous Law Fellow. She teaches an Indian Child Welfare Act class, co-teaches an experiential learning class, researches and writes on behalf of clients and on topics in federal Indian law, and manages administrative aspects of the Center.

The ILPC--founded by former MSU law professor Del Laverdure--is committed to the education of Native law students and the training of lawyers prepared to work on behalf of tribes around the country, for tribal governments, private law firms or non-profit organizations.

"The ILPC is a great place to work--it's an incredibly supportive place," Fort says. "We're able to do a wide variety of work, including working directly with tribal courts, working with the state legislature on a few issues, and writing amicus briefs for various state and federal courts. Students get the benefit of being able to specialize in their chosen field."

Students meet many people in the field of Indian law through Center events: an annual fall conference; trips to the Federal Bar Indian Law Conference; the National Native American Law Student Association Moot Court Competition; and four monthly events, the Spring Speaker Series, which features new books in the area of American Indian law - including the upcoming April discussion of Circe Sturm's book, Becoming Indian: The Struggle Over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-First Century. The Center also has hosted the Michigan Indian Judicial Association and its keynote speaker, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Michael Cavanagh.

Fort teaches Advanced Topics in Indian Law, with in-depth discussion and examination of federal and tribal law.

"I love teaching law students because I love sharing what we do here at the Center," she says. "I also really love hearing their perspective--the longer you're out of school, the more you lose certain perspectives, and I think working with law students helps keep me on top of issues as much as I introduce new issues to them."

Fort has written articles on laches and land claims and the Indian Child Welfare Act, has been published in the George Mason Law Review, and American Indian Law Review, and is an editor of the Center's Turtle Talk blog about American Indian Law.

Prior to law school, Fort was heavily involved in politics, and worked on a 1998 Congressional campaign for Democrat Lois Capps, U. S. Representative for California's 23rd Congressional District.

"I really learned how to run a field operation and recruit volunteers, and I worked with fantastic people who were all committed to the Congresswoman, which was easy, because she's one of those politicians you rarely get to work for--someone who is kind, believes in the value of what she's doing, and stands up for her beliefs and constituents," Fort says.

Working on the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 Presidential race was quite different, she says--"Primarily because I was based in D.C. working for the DNC rather than out in the field, and because the Presidential election is entirely different creature."

Fort worked primarily with the political directors of labor unions, but also helped organize a bus tour of Congresswomen in support of Al Gore's campaign; and at the end, spent a couple of weeks working on the Get Out the Vote campaign in Minnesota.

"That was probably my favorite part, because the people in the Democratic Farm Labor office were fun to work with and I got to meet and work with volunteers again," she says. "But on the whole, while I was at the DNC, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of impressive people and spend some time at the White House--an amazing opportunity for a 23-year-old."

Fort, who also worked for the National Association of Letter Carriers, and on the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, says she was pretty burned out after the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential campaign.

"I wanted to go back to school, but I didn't want to do 7 years to get a Ph.D.," she says. "At the time the law job market was still strong and it made sense to combine my wish to go back to school with a law degree."

In her leisure time, Fort, who originally hails from Adrian, enjoys cooking, biking, ice-skating and reading. A passion for historical fiction and non-fiction, as well as her enjoyment of Ken Burns' documentary, "The Civil War," led her to a bachelor's degree in history with honors from Hollins University in Roanoke, Va.

"History is something I've always been drawn to--I can't imagine not being interested in reading and researching," she says.

Published: Mon, Apr 9, 2012

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