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Native American Law Students Association Helps Storm Victims

October 28, 2016
School of Law

After Hurricane Matthew, Chelsea Barnes, a second-year law student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a break from hitting the books to hit the road. Barnes drove to Robeson County, North Carolina, to volunteer at a distribution point to help storm victims in the Lumbee tribe.

Barnes organized a supply drive at UNC School of Law and brought nonperishable food, cleaning supplies, household items for tribe members to a drop-off point in Raleigh.

That’s just one impact Carolina Law’s Native American Law Students Association (NALSA), of which Barnes is president, has made recently. The organization has planned activities at UNC School of Law to further spread awareness of its goals and mission for Native American Heritage Month in November.

In addition to tabling in the rotunda during November, NALSA students will host a luncheon on Nov. 10 at noon in room 4085 and sponsor a screening of the documentary Two Spirits on Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. in room 5048. The film focuses on the true story of a transgender Navajo teenager who was murdered. The lunch and film are open to anyone at UNC School of Law. This event is being cohosted with Lambda Law Students Association and the Conference on Race, Class, Gender and Ethnicity.

NALSA raises awareness of legal issues and general topics related to Native Americans and their culture.

North Carolina has eight Native American tribes that have state recognition — including the Lumbee tribe.

Beyond stepping up after an extreme weather event like Hurricane Matthew, NALSA has helped the Native American community by providing pro bono services related to living wills and will do so next semester with Legal Aid of North Carolina in Pembroke.

The group also aims to promote recruitment of Native law students as well as summer and post-graduate professional opportunities related to Native legal issues.

“NALSA promotes cultural awareness at UNC School of Law and seeks to advocate for more diversity at the law school. Given that our school doesn’t have a large emphasis on Indian law, I’d like to think we have an opportunity to fill in what could be a very large gap,” Barnes said.

“We advocate for representation in our legal system and try to get more people with Native American backgrounds, or at least exposure to Native American communities, in the field,” she said. “We want not only more Native Americans interested, but a system that supports those that are interested and provides them with opportunities to succeed.”

As a small group, NALSA welcomes new members to help support Native American students.

“We are far and few between,” Barnes said. “Our hope is that over time this group will develop into a strong structural comfort zone for new Native students as their numbers hopefully increase.”

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