A Family Bequest: Linda Catlin Creates Scholarship Fund to Benefit Native American Students at UArizona Law

Dec. 5, 2022

The fund will provide financial aid to Native American law students who intend to work as legal advocates for Native American communities.

In December 2014, Linda Catlin switched on PBS. Onscreen, journalist Bill Moyers spoke to Robert A. Williams Jr., Regents Professor at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.

The topic of the discussion was Williams’ most recent book, “Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization,” a continuation of the professor’s longtime advocacy for Indigenous rights.

Catlin sent Williams an email, the beginning of a years-long correspondence that would blossom into both a friendship and a bequest to the James E. Rogers College of Law — a leading institution for training lawyers in Indigenous peoples law and policy featuring a mentorship and experiential-learning program established more than 20 years back.

This fall, Catlin and the college finalized her planned gift, which will create the Linda Catlin and George Catlin Scholarship Endowment Fund, providing financial aid to Native American law students who, after graduation, intend to work as legal advocates for Native American communities.

George Catlin, for whom the endowment also is named, preceded Linda by almost 200 years, and you may know of him: The American artist documented Indigenous lifeways during the tumultuous 1830s, producing more than 500 realist paintings — portraiture, landscapes and scenes — in a time before photography.

At the decade’s outset, President Andrew Jackson had signed the Indian Removal Act, forcing Native American tribes to move west of the Mississippi River. Catlin’s work, then, documented a world in the throes of violent change.

Linda, the painter’s great-great-great-niece, didn’t know much about her ancestor until her grandparents fell into ill health.

“My father started talking about George,” she said. “And he had all these books. In high school, I started reading voraciously, and there were these Catlin books all over. I just felt so connected to it.”

The fund, as such, will honor George’s memory while empowering the law school’s Native American students. Scholarship recipients may apply aid to tuition, fees, living expenses, books or a research, advocacy, or community-development projects in service to Native American communities.

Williams, an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, has given his career to precisely such service. The fund will help to ensure that, at least at the law school, this work continues far into the future.

“The real key here is developing pipelines,” he says. “I’m 67. I probably am going to retire in a couple of years. But we want to see that pipeline constructed and filled and flowing.”

This story was originally published by the University of Arizona Foundation in the Old Main Quarterly Newsletter.