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Tribal Students Compete in UCLA Law School Program at Morongo

Morongo is first Indian reservation to host moot court program, conducted by UCLA’s Tribal Learning Community & Educational Exchange through which Native American youth earn university credits.



MORONGO INDIAN RESERVATION –Native American students from Southern and Central California learned about the legal system and earned college credits as they squared off Saturday Dec. 5 in the UCLA Law School’s moot court competition held at the Morongo Tribal Administrative Center.

Morongo is the first Indian reservation to host the moot court competition and the event involving dozens of students, law students and professors marked the final exercise in an introductory course about tribal law that the students were enrolled in at UCLA.

Morongo’s moot court team included Malia Horsman, Cecilia Martin, Levi Norte, Neptwis Toro and Joseph Waters. 

“This was a good opportunity for us because you never know - in the future, we might become a lawyer and we got a chance to see what that would be like,” said Horsman.

The Morongo team won both of its competitions during which students appeared in courtroom settings and presented arguments related to the landmark 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision secured by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians that confirmed tribal sovereignty and the rights of tribes to establish gaming operations.

Morongo Tribal Chairman Robert Martin, who was serving as tribal chairman 28 years ago when the tribe secured that Supreme Court victory, said the UCLA program helps encourage Native American students to pursue a university education.

“From the operations at our tribally-funded Morongo School here on the reservation to our college scholarship programs, our tribe remains a strong advocate for education. It’s great to be working with UCLA to help inspire the youth who will be the tribal leaders of tomorrow,” Martin said.

Dwight K. Lomayesva, director of UCLA’s Tribal Learning Community & Educational Exchange (TLCEE), said Native American students earn university course credits through the program while building leadership skills that will set them apart when they apply to UCLA or other top universities.

“No one else in the country is doing anything like this,” Lomayesva said. “This pipeline program improves accessibility by providing the types of experience that top universities are looking for in applicants. Ultimately, our goal is to reverse the trends that have left Native American students as the most underrepresented group in higher education.”

American Indians and Alaskan Natives comprise less than 1% of the nation’s college students, the lowest college enrollment rate of any ethnic group, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Similarly, only 15% of American Indians hold bachelor’s degrees, fewer than any ethnic group in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Also participating in Saturday’s moot court event were students from the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation and others. 

Morongo Education Administrator Lisa Tabarez said that much like the Morongo School, the UCLA TLCEE program integrates Native American culture and issues into the curriculum to create relevance and promote learning.

“The TLCEE is accessible and pertinent, and we’re very excited to have tribal students participating in a program that embraces the same core elements as our own education programs here at Morongo,” Tabarez said.

Students who complete four courses in the program receive a certificatefrom UCLA. The TLCEE program is made possible by an endowment from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

For more information on the program, visit  https://www.law.ucla.edu/centers/social-policy/native-nations-law-and-policy-center/projects/tlcee/