Jack Fiander: Representation for Native people
"This article is intended to be helpful to my fellow attorneys who may find themselves in the position of representing my people in personal-injury or wrongful-death cases. I also hope that the information here is helpful to my fellow tribal members in Washington state who may find themselves the victim of a tort or who have experienced personal injuries or a wrongful death in the family.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, my people live quietly among you in large numbers. Therefore, it is not unlikely that at some point in your legal career you will have the opportunity to represent them. This has been implicitly recognized since 2005, when the Board of Governors of the Washington State Bar Association made testing on the topic of federal Indian law part of the curriculum of the Washington State Bar examination. According to the Washington State Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, there are no fewer than 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 164,481 residents of the state of Washington identify themselves as Native American or Alaskan Native.

I realize that it can raise uncomfortable issues such as discrimination or stereotyping by generalizing about my people. By the same token, I shall undoubtedly receive some opprobrium for sharing information regarding certain cultural beliefs with those outside the tribe. On the whole, however, I have come down on the side that it is important to the welfare of my people that I try to convey the important considerations which you should take into account when calculating damages in cases involving tribal clients, because they are easily overlooked.

First of all, you should be aware that many of my people (including me) are very big on compliance with the Creator’s will. Oftentimes, for example, a feeling comes to me such that I cannot explain why I must drop everything I am doing in order to attend to an unexpected task. I try to explain to my wife that something is telling me that I must do this thing. I don’t know why; I am just supposed to do it. It is the Creator’s will.

When one of my people dies, usually that, too, is often considered to be the result of the Creator’s will. That is that. The period of mourning is held, and after that, the rest of their family gets on with their lives. Even if the injury or death was another’s fault or happened during the course of employment, no insurance or administrative tort claim is made and no lawsuit gets filed. Sadly, in my 25 years as a member of the Washington State Bar Association, I have found this to be the general rule."

Get the Story:
Jack Fiander: Representing My People (Washington State Bar Association May 2009)