University of Arizona Law Partners with WPLC and NoVo Foundation on Indigenous Human Rights Project

May 5, 2020

International Indigenous Human Rights Program Launched

International Indigenous Human Rights Program Launched
Pictured from left to right, Ashlee Irving, administrative associate, IPLP; Michelle Cook, SJD candidate, founding member of WPLC and founder of Divest Invest Protect; Robert A. Williams Jr., regents professor, E. Thomas Sullivan professor of law and faculty co-chair, IPLP; Seanna Howard, professor of practice, University of Arizona College of Law.

University of Arizona Law’s Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP) Program has received a major grant from the NoVo Foundation’s Indigenous Communities Initiative that will provide IPLP students with a unique opportunity for clinical placements, externships and fellowships to support the advocacy work of the Water Protectors Legal Collective (WPLC). 

The grant project will be led by WPLC co-founder and board chair Michelle Cook, an IPLP Program legal fellow and Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) candidate in residence at University of Arizona Law.

The WPLC emerged out of the #NoDAPL advocacy movement, originally serving as the on-the-ground legal team for the indigenous-led water protector’s resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Since the establishment of its first office in a tent in Oceti Sakowin, WPLC has continued to provide legal defense and human rights advocacy to the Water Protector Movement in the United States, Canada and around the world.
The NoVo Foundation grant will permit IPLP to continue to support the international divestment and corporate accountability initiatives currently led by Cook and University of Arizona Law Professor of Practice Seanna Howard, through IPLP’s International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop. Specifically, students in the workshop will support the work of the Indigenous Human Rights Defenders and Corporate Accountability (IHRDCA) Program, a collaboration between the WPLC and IPLP Program. 

Faculty and students in the IHRDCA Program will continue to engage international human rights bodies such as the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to hold multinational resource development and fossil fuel corporations' banking and financing operations accountable to human rights standards when their activities impact indigenous communities, lands, waters, and resources. The IHRDCA Program will also develop educational programming related to corporate social responsibility and protecting indigenous human rights.
Professor Robert A. Williams, Jr., Regents Professor and IPLP faculty co-chair, will serve as principal investigator on the grant. Williams pointed to the unique clinical opportunities provided to law students who will be working on IHRDCA Program projects within the International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop. 

“There is no other law school in the United States or the world that can offer students these types of unique clinical and externship opportunities to go along with the extensive list of course offerings in the field of indigenous peoples law, policy, governance, development and human rights,” said Williams. “We are very excited to partner with the WPLC and NoVo Foundation on this important initiative.”

Michelle Cook is Honagháahnii (One Who Walks Around You) Clan and Tábąąhá (Close to the Water Edge) Clan, and an enrolled member of the Diné (Navajo) Nation. She is a commissioner on the Navajo Human Rights Commission and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of New Mexico School of Law with a certificate in Federal Indian law. She is a SJD candidate with the IPLP Program. She is also a founding member of the WPLC, the founder of the Divest, Invest, Protect campaign, and co-director of the Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegations, an indigenous-led international human rights campaign pressuring banks, insurance, and credit rating agencies to divest from harmful extraction projects and invest in the survival and self-determination of the world’s indigenous peoples.