In recognition of her contributions as a legal scholar, community organizer and mentor, University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law student Marliza Rivera was given the Outstanding Graduate Academic Award by University of Arizona Native American Student Affairs (NASA).
Rivera earned her JD from University of Arizona Law in December 2018 and is graduating with a Master of Laws (LLM) in Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy this May.
The NASA Outstanding Graduate Academic Award is given to a graduate or professional student who has demonstrated significant achievement as well as contributed to the establishment of the Native American community at the UA.
An enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma and also Chicana (Mexican-American), Rivera began her lengthy path to law school as a child growing up in Chicago in the 1960s.
"Growing up in the inner-city of Chicago, fraught with drugs, gang violence, abuse by police and politicians, and a lack of resources, I was motivated to stand up for the marginalized and use my voice to speak for my neighbors, many of whom were immigrants and scared of a system that threatened their families and their livelihoods,” Rivera says. “This led me to join the law club in high school."
However, her dream of attending law school and using the legal system to fight for justice for the underserved was put on hold.
After serving in the Army, Rivera worked in the corporate world, the federal government, and tribal social services. Throughout each phase of her career, she continued to consider law school. After Rivera’s children graduated from the University of Arizona, they urged her to pursue her long-awaited dream of a legal education.
She enrolled at University of Arizona Law as a recipient of the Williams Achievement Award scholarship and the Valdemar A. Cordova ('50) Scholarship, through Los Abogados and a Seven Generations Native American Bar Association Scholarship.
During her time at University of Arizona Law, Rivera was a member of the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA), the Latino Law Students Association, the Immigration Law Students Association, and the Law Women's Association and mentored fellow law students. She took the Pascua Yaqui bar exam and was admitted to practice last spring. She also served as an assistant special prosecutor and was an extern in the Public Defender's Office of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe this spring, providing essential legal services to indigent defendants. She intends to develop her own practice focused on immigration, tribal law and civil rights.
“Law school has been one of the greatest experiences of my life—the hardest and the easiest,” Rivera says. “I have been pushed beyond boundaries I believed were impassable, challenged by great scholars and scholarship, and embraced by a community of genuinely caring staff, faculty, and most of all, my NALSA family. I could not have imagined a better program to be a part of than the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program, which has gone above and beyond to support Native students, indigenous programming, and advocacy for human rights.”