Seattle U Law hires first Alaska Native professor to help lead Center for Indian Law & Policy

February 8, 2024 · By Nicole Jennings
Nazune Menka
Professor Nazune Menka

Nazune Menka

Seattle University School of Law has selected Professor Nazune Menka to become the next faculty director of the Center for Indian Law & Policy (CILP) beginning July 1. Menka, who will also serve as a tenure-track assistant professor of law, is Seattle U Law’s first Alaska Native faculty member.

“The recruitment of Nazune Menka is another significant achievement for Seattle U Law, which is a trailblazer nationally in Indigenous law and justice, with our Center for Indian Law & Policy and one of the only Native American law journals in the country,” said Dean Anthony E. Varona. “We look forward to Nazune’s teaching, scholarship, and leadership in this area for years to come.”

Through an array of educational programs, services, and opportunities for law students, tribes, tribal citizens, and attorneys, the Center for Indian Law & Policy aims to ensure tribal history, law, and government is an integral part of every student’s legal education and is committed to developing powerful advocates prepared to serve tribes and tribal communities.

CILP, which was established nearly two decades ago, oversees courses in Indian law and connects students with internships, externships, work study programs, and volunteer opportunities with local tribes. CILP is one of fewer than 20 law school centers around the nation dedicated to Indian law and policy.

“I’m excited to increase the impact the Center for Indian Law & Policy can have in the Pacific Northwest. There is a huge opportunity to build on what the center does and create awareness of Indigenous peoples’ legal issues,” Menka said. “I hope we can broaden our impact and be of service to Native nations in both Washington and Alaska. It is important that we make the center’s presence known and make ourselves available to supporting legal issues that tribes raise.”

Born and raised in Anchorage and the village of Chistochina, Alaska, Menka is Koyukon Athabaskan (from Central Alaska) and Lumbee (from Southeastern North Carolina).

This heritage is what inspires her to advocate for Indigenous and environmental rights across the nation. Her areas of expertise and study include Indigenous human rights, Indigenous ways of knowing, tribal sovereignty, constitutional law, and environmental law and policy.

“I have strived to connect to the Native community in every place I have worked,” Menka said. “It’s really about trying to create more inclusive spaces. I don’t think there’s any part of my work that I do that is separate from my Indigenous identity.”

Menka comes to the law school from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, where she is the inaugural director of the Center for Indigenous Law & Justice. According to its website, the center seeks to “foster teaching, research, and community with the aim of supporting the sovereignty of, and securing justice for, local, state, national, and international Indigenous Peoples and Native Nations.” She looks forward to focusing on this same work in the Puget Sound region by leading CILP.

“I’m absolutely elated that Professor Menka will be joining the Seattle University School of Law family, and even more thrilled she will be the center’s leading faculty,” said CILP Director Brooke Pinkham. “Not only is Professor Menka highly knowledgeable of Indigenous communities, the added value of having Native faculty (and staff) at this institution has the potential of inspiring a much-needed increase of Native law students.”

Before becoming director of the CILJ, Menka was the supervising attorney for Berkeley Law’s Environmental Law Clinic for one year and spent two years as the Tribal Cultural Resources Policy Fellow. She is also Of Counsel at Rosette, LLP, an Indigenous rights-centered firm that advocates for tribes across the United States. Menka has represented Indigenous and environmental interests in a variety of positions with the state governments of Alaska and Hawaii, as well as with the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. House of Representatives.

This will not be Menka’s first foray into Sullivan Hall — she spent her first year of law school at Seattle U Law before earning a J.D. from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law with a certificate in Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy. While at Seattle U Law, Menka was involved with the Native American Law Student Association, through which she advocated for Seattle University to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“It’s very full-circle coming back to the law school,” Menka said, noting that it was her former civil procedure professor, Vice Dean of Academic Affairs and Fredric C. Tausend Professor of Law Brooke D. Coleman, who hosted her campus visit to Sullivan Hall on the day of her interview. “It was surreal, but a really beautiful moment. I am excited to receive this offer to come back to Seattle U Law as a professor, and to be of service to the students and the community.”

Menka earned an M.S. in soil, water, and environmental science from the University of Arizona and a B.A. in public relations, advertising, and applied communication from North Carolina State University.

She will teach Indigenous Peoples, Law, and the United States, Environmental Law Fundamentals, and Property in the 2024-25 academic year.

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