SJD 2022 Grad Leonard Mukosi Advocates for the Recognition of Indigenous Peoples Data Sovereignty

May 9, 2022

Leonard Mukosi, Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Doctor of Juridical Studies (SJD) candidate recalls the first time he learned about University of Arizona Law.  

While working on his Master of Laws (LLM) degree at Michigan State University, Mukosi was doing research about the intersection between human rights and addiction, and he learned about “therapeutic jurisprudence,” a term coined by University of Arizona Law Distinguished Research Professor of Law Emeritus David Wexler. Although Mukosi had already applied to SJD programs at other law schools, he decided to apply to the law school of the professor who first used the term.   

“When I applied, I didn’t even know what Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP) was all about, but it turned out to be the best coincidence ever,” says Mukosi. 

He says his time in the IPLP program not only gave him a stronger academic background but awakened him to the fact that he was not just learning about Indigenous Peoples Law but also studying about himself and his people.  

“I knew I was Indigenous, but I didn’t know the importance and the value tied to that,” he added.  

Mukosi successfully defended his dissertation, which explores the topic of Indigenous data sovereignty, and has been accepted for publication in leading indigenous law journals.  

The first part of his dissertation, “Indigenous Data Sovereignty: Origins and Implications for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” is forthcoming in UCLA’s Indigenous People’s Journal of Law Culture and Resistance. Mukosi traces the origins and conceptualization of the Indigenous data sovereignty movement in academia and highlights how scholars across disciplines draw on the rights and principles established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  

Mukosi focuses the second part on adoption records belonging to adult Native American adoptees who were removed from their families through the Indian Adoption Project, a government-funded program from 1958-67. The thesis in the paper is that the collection sealing, altering and destroying of adoption records during the Indian Adoption Project resembles the extraction of personal data by government and corporations in the contemporary. He highlights the steps being taken by adult Native American adoptees to restore their connection with Native cultures, families and traditional lands. The paper, “Extraction of Personal Data a New form of Colonialism or Continuation of an Old Colonial Practice? Adult Native American Adoptees Rebuild Identities Erased by Colonial Control Over Adoption Records,”  is forthcoming in Seattle Law School’s American Indian Law Journal.  

Mukosi says his published work is an outcome of the great mentorship that he received during his time as an SJD student.  

“I encountered some of the most compassionate and dedicated professors and mentors,” says Mukosi. “In a world where individualism seems to be the dominant practice, people do not help each other, they do not mentor each other, but being here changed my life." 

He advises future SJD students to not limit themselves academically and to make sure to utilize all the opportunities offered through the program, such as working with tribes and Indigenous organizations.  

Mukosi hopes to begin his career as an Assistant Professor after receiving his SJD with the goal of one day teaching Indigenous Peoples Law.  

“My longstanding career aspiration is to be a legal academic,” says Mukosi. “I know my time here has put me on the path to success.” 

Mukosi says he knows all fellow 2022 grads will put the knowledge they have gained during their time here to do good and represent Arizona Law while doing it.  

“You don’t realize how much knowledge you have amassed or how competent you are until you are called to put your skills and experience to test,” he added.  “So, this is the time to serve the world.”