Emma Hamilton ’18

Hometown: Santa Fe, NM
Education: New Mexico State University 2013
Affiliations: Karuk-Berkeley Collaborative Legal, Ecology Law Quarterly, Environmental Law Society, Students for Economic & Environmental Justice, California Law Review, Chair of 2018 California Water Law Symposium

I joined the Karuk-Berkeley Collaborative Legal (KBC Legal) as a 1L because I knew I was interested in natural resources and environmental law and I wanted to learn more about Native American legal issues and federal Indian law.

We work with the General Counsel of the Karuk Tribe, who is a Berkeley Law grad. We meet with her at the beginning of the year and she lays out some legal issues that the Tribe has encountered that she (as the Tribe’s only full-time attorne) needs extra help researching. The work falls into two categories: cultural property and natural resources. The students work on answering the issues she’s presented in the form of memoranda. Then in the spring we travel north to meet with her and other tribal staff and leaders to present and discuss our work.

We’ve learned from these meetings that the line between cultural property and natural resources is a somewhat artificial distinction. For the Karuk, natural resources are cultural resources, inseparably connected to the land that they’ve inhabited since time immemorial. So, any legal issue that threatens access to land or resources is both an environmental law issue and a cultural property issue. The place is intimately related to the work and the legal issues that arise for the Tribe. Being able to go there and spend time by the Klamath River and explore the place that we are learning about and the reason we are doing this work is so powerful.

In addition to connecting with the place, which is so important for KBC Legal members to do, it’s humbling to realize that even though we’ve been working on these projects all year and have, to some degree, become experts in these niche areas of the law, the Tribe has been dealing with these legal issues for generations. Learning about the history of these issues and the collaboration that happens during those trips is such a special experience.

Whether or not I go on to work with tribes or directly with federal Indian law, having experience working with a tribe and gaining exposure to this area of complicated law is incredibly valuable. This experience will definitely make me a better attorney and has been one of the highlights of my three years at Berkeley Law.