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Acknowledging America’s First Sovereign: Incorporating Tribal Justice Systems into the Legal Research and Writing Curriculum

Posted: 17 Sep 2009 Last revised: 2 Oct 2017

Samantha A. Moppett

Suffolk University Law School

Date Written: 2010


Marie Setian (Marie) drove to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut, with her husband and another couple for a day of gambling, dining, and entertainment. After gambling for a little while, the couples went to the Festival Buffet. At the buffet’s seafood station, Marie placed some shrimp on her plate. As she walked to the international station, her left foot slipped on something, and she fell to the floor. As a result of the fall, Marie experienced soreness, swelling, and discomfort in her knee. Eventually, she underwent surgery and participated in extensive physical therapy. Her knee will never be the same again.

Marie contacted an attorney because she wanted to sue Foxwoods for the actual damages and pain and suffering that she sustained as a result of the slip and fall. Accordingly, the attorney filed a claim in the Connecticut trial court on behalf of Marie. Although it would appear the attorney acted competently and professionally, the state trial court dismissed Marie’s claim.

In law schools across the country, law students are introduced to federalism and the organization of the United States government. This invariably includes, among other things, a discussion of the dual systems operated by the state and federal courts, an introduction to the jurisdiction of these courts, and the sources of authority that these courts can consider. Yet, this nearly universal introduction to the American judicial system is incomplete.

This article addresses the failure of law schools to introduce law students to America’s first sovereign -- Indian tribes. Legal education in the United States has largely ignored America’s first sovereign, perpetuating the false perception that the United States has dual legal systems -- federal and state. By failing to acknowledge this sovereign entity and its justice systems, legal educators are misinforming their students--the lawyers of tomorrow.

Law schools need to take steps to meet their responsibility to accurately portray the United States legal system and to sensitize law students to the potential for tribal law issues. Specifically, legal writing professors should incorporate tribal justice systems and American tribal law -- the law made by Indians -- into the legal research and writing curriculum. Integrating tribal justice systems into the curriculum acknowledges a forgotten sovereign, enhances students' learning, respects the increasingly diverse nature of the law school student body, and prepares law students for the realities of practice in today’s increasingly diverse society.

Suggested Citation

Moppett, Samantha A., Acknowledging America’s First Sovereign: Incorporating Tribal Justice Systems into the Legal Research and Writing Curriculum (2010). Oklahoma City University Law Review, Vol. 35, p. 267, 2010; Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 09-41. Available at SSRN:

Samantha A. Moppett (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

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