Dane Beaulieu was surprised to learn Iowa Law had rich opportunities and a strong network to help him succeed in Indian Law.
Tuesday, November 21, 2023

When you think “Indian Law,” you might not think “Iowa.”

Dane Beaulieu wants you to think again.

Beaulieu, a third-year Iowa Law student, is a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. When he finished his undergrad degree at the University of Georgia in 2021, he knew he wanted to go to law school to study Indian Law, the field that regulates the complex legal relationships between Native American nations, the United States, and the states.

Dane Beaulieu headshot
Dane Beaulieu, a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, will graduate in May 2024.

As he checked out law schools looking for a good program, he came upon the University of Iowa Law School. The name of the dean, Kevin Washburn, jumped out at him, and for good reason—Washburn had served as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior from 2012 to 2016.

Beaulieu applied to Iowa, and Washburn reached out to him with encouragement. It was the beginning of both a great mentorship and a promising career for Beaulieu. Since he arrived at Iowa, Washburn has met with him regularly, offering support and a rich network of contacts in the Indian Law field.

Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, began his legal career in 1993 as a clerk for Judge William C. Canby, Jr., a renowned Indian Law expert who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Washburn later served as general counsel for the federal National Indian Gaming Commission from 2002-2004. He went on to build his academic career, including an appointment as the Oneida Indian Nation Visiting Associate Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. His expertise in criminal law in Indian Country and gaming has helped shape the field of Indian law.

At Iowa, Washburn taught Beaulieu in a core Indian Law course. Most importantly, he introduced him to influential figures in the field and helped him find valuable internship opportunities. Beaulieu deepened his understanding of issues facing Native American tribes through a semester-long field placement with the Office of the Tribal Attorney for the Yurok Tribe of California and then spent a summer interning for the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado.

Beaulieu is passionate about child welfare in the context of Indian Law—as in many areas of law, there are many thorny issues surrounding justice for children who are simultaneously members of a sovereign Indian nation, a state, and the United States. Through the Iowa Children’s Justice Initiative, UI alumna Judge Mary Tabor (85BA, 91JD) of the Iowa Court of Appeals set Beaulieu up with an internship at the Meskwaki Tribal Court near Tama, Iowa. He worked there for another Iowa Law graduate, Chief Trial Judge Jessica R. Bear (97BA, 00JD), focusing on child welfare issues.

Following in the footsteps of Iowa Law alumni like Bear, Tabor, and Judge Sarah I. Wheelock (01BA, 04JD)—the first Native American judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals—Beaulieu hopes to have an impact on federal Indian Law and to help families and tribes navigate child welfare issues.

With guidance and support from Dean Washburn, Professor Alison Guernsey, and the other Iowa Law faculty—and through his hands-on, real-world experiences in the field—he will have a rock-solid foundation for his career.

“If you make use of the opportunities that are in front of you, you can get into Indian Law at Iowa,” said Beaulieu, who is president of the UI chapter of the Native American Law Students Association. “There are networks that you can establish here, and federal Indian law courses you can take, and externships you can work.”

“If you’re interested in Indian Law, it’s easy to overlook Iowa—but I don’t think that should be the case.”