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Derek “Red Arrow” Frank earns federal clerkship, launches career in advocacy

October 19, 2017

John KirkwoodIn August, 3L Derek "Red Arrow" Frank will begin a federal clerkship that will start him down the path to his ultimate career goal: changing the country's narrative of its indigenous population.

Frank will work as a law clerk for the Honorable Brian M. Morris of the U.S. District Court of Montana, where he'll conduct legal research, help check and proofread legal documents, and draft court opinions. Much of Judge Morris's work relates to Montana's tribes, which makes the position a great fit.

Federal clerkships are competitive, with thousands of applicants vying for the chance to gain valuable experience and get exposure to a range of legal issues. Thanks to the support of his mentors, including Bree Black Horse '13, who received the same clerkship in 2014, Frank stood out from the crowd.

Like other social-justice minded people, Frank's motivation for getting a law degree isn't himself. He wants his work to honor his ancestors and create a better world for future generations, including his 8-year-old daughter. "As an indigenous person in law, you're not there for yourself," he said. "You're there representing everyone before you and you're there to protect everyone who is after you."

Through his position, Frank will have the rare opportunity to be an "insider" ally for indigenous communities. "The federal clerkship is an incredible opportunity as a Native American because very few Native Americans get to see the inner workings of the federal court system, which decide most of our rights as Native People," he said. "Not many indigenous people have the opportunity to actually step inside the system and voice that type of perspective for marginalized communities."

Despite his passion for advocacy, attending law school wasn't always on Frank's radar. He grew up in the small town of Cheney, Washington as a member of the Nez Perce tribe and moved to Seattle in his early 20s.

Shortly after getting settled in the Emerald City, he started taking classes at Bellevue College in hopes of becoming a chemist. It wasn't until he started taking contemporary ethics and philosophy classes that he chose a path toward a career that could address the challenges indigenous people face, such as sovereignty issues and natural resource protection.

Frank discovered Seattle U after hearing a radio ad that promoted the school as a social-justice institution. Frank felt like the school's mission paired with his passion and areas of interest, so he enrolled as an undergrad and earned a bachelor's degree in political science. When he learned about the law school's Indian Law program, as well as the Douglas R. Nash Native American Scholarship (named for the founding director of Seattle U Law's Center for Indian Law and Policy who is also a member of Derek's tribe), he made it his goal to win the award. And in 2015, he did.

Frank held a leadership position with the Native American Law Student Association in 2015-16, and is currently the editor-in-chief of The American Indian Law Journal.

With Derek Frank's career ahead of him, indigenous people and other marginalized populations can count on one more legal advocate on their side.