Pro Bono Winter Break 2013 (Cherokee, N.C.) Blog Day One

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Day 1: Travel, Training, and Fellowship

Hello from Cherokee, N.C.! Today is our first day in Western N.C. and it has been a full one.

I am Samuel Williams and I, along with my partner Joseph Chilton and nineteen of our newest friends, will be leading you through the first-ever Pro Bono Winter Break Trip to Cherokee, N.C. We will be spending the next day and a half running a free legal clinic for members of the reservation in conjunction with Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Our morning began at 5:30 a.m. when we congregated at the Alta Springs clubhouse in Chapel Hill. In true Carolina Law fashion, everyone was on time and ready to go (well, technically I was 2 minutes late, but whatever). We were greeted by 3 sweet SUVs and while they may not have had amenities like “room for storage,” they had swag. Motivated by our fearless leaders Munashe Magarira, Kelly Anderson, Dean Novinsky and Meriwether Evans we were soon off with nothing in front of us but the open road and the sweet allure of Bojangles and coffee.

Driving towards Cherokee we managed to leave the rain behind and met what is always the breathtaking scenery of the Appalachian Mountains. With caffeine in our system our convoy managed to roll in an hour early and we were able to observe the Cherokee Tribal Court in session. (Fun Fact: All of the Judges on the Cherokee Court graduated from UNC – I’m just saying).

After a delicious lunch of Domino's pizza we were officially introduced to Judge Matthew Martin, Associate Judge on the Cherokee Court and adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Larry Nestler, Senior Managing Attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina's Sylva office.

The next few hours were spent learning more specifically about Cherokee tribal law and its interconnectivity with the law of North Carolina and about what issues we could potentially see tomorrow. Judge Martin talked to us about important court cases in the history of tribal law (for additional reading check out Johnson v. M’ Intosh, Cherokee Nation v. GA, or Wooster v. GA). We learned what proof was required in order to enroll as a member of the Cherokee Nation (Must be 1/16 Cherokee and have ancestors listed on the “Baker roll” census), how members of the tribal council were elected (each “township” on the reservation votes for members), and what property rights each individual on the reservation has (individuals do not own the property but rather have a possessory interest in the land). Needless to say we learned more than I have room to share on this blog but it was fascinating and I have no doubt we will learn plenty more by the end of this week. Larry of LANC went over a number of specific statutes from the Cherokee Indians Eastern Band Code of Ordinances and gave us just a taste of what we could be seeing tomorrow. Spoiler Alert: Will/Estate issues, Custody questions, Predatory Lending involving a mobile home on tribal land, and an adoption question. Tomorrow we will be split into partners as we do amongst other things intake interviews with different clients. . . wish us luck.

After training we headed back to our hotel (which by the way is a 30 second walk from the casino) and got ready for dinner. Dinner was at Bogarts in Sylva, NC where tonight's special was the best fried catfish I have ever had with redskin mashed potatoes and a side salad.

Winter Break Group Picture

Kat led our reflection after dinner. We wrote letters to ourselves talking about our hopes and expectations for this trip as well as potential prejudices involving our client population. We will be getting these letters back on Friday. It was comforting to hear from the other members of our group as we go into the relatively unknown tomorrow. After dinner I realized that regardless of what tomorrow brings the fellowship which grew out of today was something special and I feel fortunate to have gotten to spend time with such an incredible group of people, many of whom I would not have had the pleasure to meet otherwise.

Even though we were all exhausted the night involved a quick trip to the casino, where we were given five complimentary dollars. . . that’s right, we’re kind of a big deal. I have not seen the whole group since everyone headed to the casino so I’m not sure of what our take was, but I’ll make sure to keep you in the loop.

Winter Break Casino Trip

Tomorrow: The real work begins.


Posted by Samuel H. Williams (Sam) on Wed. January 2, 2013 10:00 PM
Categories: Winter Break Trip 2013

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