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Amanda White Eagle, Lisa Washington and Chris Lau return to UW Law.

Headshot photo of Amanda White Eagle, wearing thick frame glasses, red lipstick, and a red top with a University of Wisconsin necklace.
Amanda White Eagle

Amanda White Eagle ’05 Joins Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center as Director

As a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Amanda White Eagle ’05 thought it was important to be a part of University of Wisconsin Law School, which occu­pies ancestral Ho-Chunk land, a place their nation has called Teejop (day-JOPE) since time immemori­al. This fall, White Eagle returned to fill an essential role at her alma mater: director of the Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center (GLILC).

White Eagle, a double Badger who first studied French, anthropology and American Indian Studies, graduated from UW Law in 2005. Her path to the legal profession was anything but typical.

“I had a bit of a nontraditional experience as a law student,” said White Eagle, who gave birth to her daughter during her first semester of Law School and her son during her last. “Nontraditional students were in a different category back then. We didn’t always get the same opportunities for making connections and feeling part of the school like our counterparts were able to.”

Despite this, White Eagle never felt alone at UW Law; she found the Indigenous Law Students Association (ILSA) and the broader Legal Education Opportunities (LEO) Program community, which offered her opportunities for friendship, networking and inclusivity.

“Being a member of ILSA really helped me and my family succeed,” she said.

It wasn’t until the second semester of law school that White Eagle discovered her interests in tribal law.

“When I first started law school, I was convinced I wanted to go into corporate or tax law,” said White Eagle. “I took a lot of tax law courses and just thought I was going to go into that area as my career after graduation. I’ve actually done very little tax law professionally, but my coursework in that area did give me a strong background that’s been beneficial in other areas of my professional life.”

During her second semester, White Eagle became a Josephine P. White Eagle Graduate Fellow, which is available to Ho-Chunk Nation members who intend to complete a master’s or doctorate degree at an accredited college or university in the United States. The award covers tuition, fees, books and living expenses while in school. Upon completion of the degree program, recipients choose to either work within the Ho-Chunk Nation for the time covered by the award or pay back the funds. White Eagle chose the former (and then some), working for the tribe for an impressive 18 years.

White Eagle fulfilled various roles while work­ing for the Ho-Chunk Nation Tribal Government, including judicial law clerk, tribal attorney, senior tribal counsel, associate judge, interim chief judge and attorney general. She credits the Ho-Chunk Nation with her opportunities.

In 2019, White Eagle pursued an opportunity as a clinical fellow with the New York University (NYU)-Yale American Indian Sovereignty Project. The Project seeks to support initiatives pertaining to issues of tribal sovereignty and federal Indian law in the United States. Housed jointly at NYU Law and within Yale’s College of Letters and Science, the project coordinates faculty and student research efforts, campus programmatic work in the field and educational programming at both campuses.

“With the Sovereignty Project, I filed amicus briefs before the Supreme Court and worked with students on historical legal research and tracking of federal Indian law cases across the different circuit courts,” explained White Eagle.

It’s crucial to ensure students have experiences studying federal and tribal law while in law school, she said. And it’s something UW Law, with its Law-in-Action tradition, excels at.

“As a first-generation law student, if you don’t have any experience with court systems or lawyers, the lessons are really abstract,” White Eagle said. “I remember sitting in class my first year of law school and not fully comprehending what things mean. You sit there and repeat the words, but you don’t under­stand how it’s all applied. But with the Law-in-Action tradition and the experiences I had at UW Law, I was afforded many experiences of applying and practicing the law within the borders of Wis­consin. All these opportunities gave me practi­cal experience, and it showed me the dynamics of how law played out in practical terms.”

While White Eagle enjoyed the Sovereignty Project and strongly supported its mission, when the director position for UW Law’s Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center was posted, she couldn’t resist applying.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring my expertise to UW Law and share some ideas I had that could assist the Center,” she said.

The first charter for the GLILC was adopt­ed by UW Law faculty at Professor Richard Monette’s request in 1992. Monette ’90, a for­mer Hastie Fellow, had recently joined the fac­ulty. One of his first action items was drafting and placing the original charter for the Center on the faculty agenda.

GLILC was established to improve the practical legal skills of all students interested in federal Indian law while providing a legal resource for Native Nations. Eleven federally recognized Native Nations are surrounded by the state of Wisconsin, including six bands of Chippewa and Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Oneida, Menominee and Mohican (Stock­bridge-Munsee) Tribes. The Center’s mission is to “advance the Wisconsin Idea by con­necting Law in Action to Native Nations and Native organizations throughout Wisconsin and the nation, and to Indigenous peoples throughout the world.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to bring my ideas to the table to ensure [GLILC’s] continued success. My vision focuses on strengthening partnerships to support the Center’s reputation as the preeminent organization in the Midwest for Native issues…”

“Richard has done a lot of really great work build­ing this great Center, and, as an Indigenous person, I’m excited for the opportunity to bring my ideas to the table to ensure its continued success,” said White Eagle. “My vision focuses on strengthening part­nerships to support the Center’s reputation as the preeminent organization in the Midwest for Native issues and has a series of incremental steps for its implementation and growth. I hope to revitalize the Center’s infrastructure and create new partnerships, including cross-institutional collaborations with other law schools.”

Monette, who has served as the Center’s direc­tor since its founding, is thrilled to welcome White Eagle into the role.

“I am delighted and excited for the Law School and the Center,” said Monette. “Amanda and GLILC Outreach Specialist Dan Cornelius ’09, both of whom are local tribal members and UW alumni, will connect well with area Native Nations and fulfill the missions of the university, the Law School and the Center.”

While White Eagle’s decision to accept the position rested strongly in her cultural identity and professional background, she said she felt incredibly welcomed to the Law School by Dean Dan Tokaji as well as the faculty and staff who reached out to her to express their excitement about her work and ideas for the future of the Center.

White Eagle noted she was also highly impressed by the UW Law Library, which, in partnership with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, the GLILC, the National Indian Law Library and the Open Law Library, received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to develop the Digital Publication of Tribal Laws Pilot Project. In this Project, librarians and developers work with Native Nations to openly publish their laws using a custom­ized platform that offers tribes full ownership and control over their content.

“UW Law has a strong legacy in tribal law, and there are wonderful new things happening in that area and the community was so welcoming. I just felt like this was a place I could contribute and thrive as a professional,” she said.


Headshot photo of Christopher Lau smiling at the camera while wearing a dark gray suit, pinstripe shirt, and red and blue tie.
Christopher Lau

Christopher Lau Felt ‘Desire to Return’ to Wisconsin

Christopher Lau understands the importance of struggling alongside marginalized clients.

After receiving a joint J.D.-M.P.A. from the Uni­versity of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and Princeton University’s School of Public and Interna­tional Affairs, Lau spent seven years in the criminal defense practice of The Bronx Defenders. He then spent a year as director of University of Wisconsin Law School’s Wisconsin Innocence Project before serving last year as a visiting assistant professor at Cardozo School of Law in New York.

This fall, he felt the call to come back to UW Law as a clinical assistant professor.

“Part of the impetus for my desire to return was knowing how much need there is to help incarcer­ated people in Wisconsin,” he said. “Unfortunately, Wisconsin has higher incarceration rates than almost all its neighbors. By some metrics, it also has the highest Black incarceration rate in the nation.”

According to Lau, despite having a similar pop­ulation size, Wisconsin incarcerates twice as many people as neighboring Minnesota and spends twice as much on corrections — with no indication that it makes the state any safer.

Lau’s research and teaching originates from his experience working alongside Black, brown and low-income people ensnared by the criminal legal system.

“As a public defender in the Bronx, it was impos­sible to ignore how the legal system dispropor­tionately targets, surveils and punishes poor communities of color,” he said. “My research examines alternatives to our current system of policing and prosecution.”

Lau’s work rests within the Law School’s Law-in-Action tradition, which is central to the clinical teaching model at the Wisconsin Innocence Project.

“Our students work with clients who have been wrongfully convicted and learn firsthand just how unfairly the legal system is struc­tured,” he explained. “They learn that the legal system is not a neutral system, but one built to subordinate people who are marginalized because of their race, economic status, and sexual and gender identity. Our students learn how to use their knowl­edge and skills as law students to fight alongside clients who otherwise are left without recourse.”

A strong tradition of equal access to justice under the law and a desire to help the incarcerated were among the top factors that shaped Lau’s decision to return. The other consideration was the opportu­nity to be part of a community that “can make real change,” both at the Law School and more broadly.

“The Law School under Dean Dan Tokaji has provided great support for clinical teaching and emerging scholarship, which makes it an exciting place to teach and to practice,” he said, adding that the entire UW Law community has been incredibly supportive and welcoming.

Although it’s a sad testament to the long delays in post-conviction cases, many of the clients Lau worked with previously at UW Law are still active clients of the Wisconsin Innocence Project.

“I’m most looking forward to getting back to work on their cases,” he said. “The goal is always to try and get some modicum of justice for our clients. We hope that more of our clients, many of whom have been incarcerated for decades, are able to come home. However, we also hope to instill in our students the importance of struggling alongside their clients, no matter the outcome.”


Headshot photo of Lisa Washington; she is smiling at the camera with her hair up and while wearing a blue blazer with thin polygonal gold earrings.
Lisa Washington

Former Hastie Fellow Lisa Washington ’22 Returns to UW Law

Former Hastie Fellow Lisa Washington ’22, who returned to University of Wisconsin Law School this fall, brings with her a philosophy rooted in the Law-in-Action tradition and a desire to inspire the next generation of lawyers.

“My research interest and passion for teaching and working with students is driven by a belief that legal education should have an impact outside of the classroom,” explained Washington, assistant professor of law.

Washington received her first law degree from Humboldt University in Berlin and went on to earn her LL.M. at Columbia Law School. While working as a public defender at The Bronx Defenders in New York City, she worked on her Ph.D. studies in comparative criminal procedure at Freie Univer­sität Berlin and recently successfully defended her dissertation.

During her time in practice, Washington worked alongside parents ensnared in the child welfare system — a system she refers to as the “family reg­ulation system” — and other carceral systems. She learned how connected the immigration, criminal legal and family regulation systems are and how they impact the lives of marginalized people across the country.

Washington came to UW Law as a 2021-22 Hastie Fellow, an experience she said, “could not have been better.” (You can learn more about the Hastie Fel­lowship in the article, “Reflections From 50 Years.”)

“I felt supported by the faculty and really part of the larger campus as well,” she said. “My time as a Hastie Fellow gave me the opportunity to focus on my research agenda after a busy but fulfilling time in practice.”

Washington said she’s been lucky to have men­tors who generously supported her at various stages of her career. She’s grateful for individuals such as Professor Catherine Smith at the University of Den­ver Sturm College of Law for convincing her that the move from practice to academia was a real possibili­ty. And for UW’s John and Rylla Bosshard Professor of Law Heinz Klug, her research advisor during her time as a Hastie Fellow.

His own experience and excellent reputation as a teacher and scholar are an inspiration, she said.

“Lisa Washington is one of the most thorough and creative young scholars I have had the privilege to work with and I am very excited that she will be joining our faculty,” said Klug.

After her time as a Hastie Fellow, Washington joined the faculty of Brooklyn Law School, where she taught evidence and criminal procedure with a focus on police investigations.

“My research is informed by my practice experi­ence and interdisciplinary interests,” said Washing­ton. “I draw on lived experiences and highlight my own positionality within my work.”

In the classroom, Washington said she loves incorporating real-world examples, current debates and simulations into her teaching.

“As stressful as law school can be, it should also be fun and generative,” she explained.

Washington looks forward to showing her stu­dents that even a “rule-based class like evidence can be a lot of fun.”

“I hope to support them in finding their own unique place as lawyers and challenge them to think critically,” she continued. “Being a lawyer — with all its challenges — changed my life, opened up oppor­tunities and helped me find my own way of working toward a world I’d like to see become reality. I hope I can inspire students to do the same.”

by Kassandra Tuten