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Day two of David Pecker testimony wraps in NY Trump trial; Supreme Court hears arguments on Idaho's near-total abortion ban; ND sees a flurry of campaigning among Native candidates; and NH lags behind other states in restricting firearms at polling sites.

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The Senate moves forward with a foreign aid package. A North Carolina judge overturns an aged law penalizing released felons. And child protection groups call a Texas immigration policy traumatic for kids.

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Wyoming needs more educators who can teach kids trade skills, a proposal to open 40-thousand acres of an Ohio forest to fracking has environmental advocates alarmed and rural communities lure bicyclists with state-of-the-art bike trail systems.

Advocates boost legal services to MT's native tribes

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Thursday, January 4, 2024   

A new program from the Montana Legal Services Association is boosting legal assistance to people living on the state's tribal land.

The Tribal Advocate Incubator Project gives lay people the skills they need to help Montana's underserved Indigenous population. Right now, many of Montana's Indigenous people lack legal services or the money they need to pay for them. The incubator project recruits and trains lay people from each of Montana's Indigenous communities to help tribal members who need legal assistance.

Valerie Falls Down, tribal advocacy coordinator for Montana Legal Services, who coordinates the 14-week training program, said while the lay advocates are not lawyers, they are equipped to help address some of the unique legal challenges Montana's tribal members face.

"The remote nature of Montana's seven reservations and the lack of locally available educational programs for lay advocates contribute to the shortage of qualified lay advocates in Montana's tribal communities," Falls Down explained. "It has a huge impact with all of the community members who now have access to legal services."

Seven students from each of Montana's tribal reservations recently took part in a mock trial in Billings to practice the skills they will use when they represent tribal members in their communities.

Most legal issues on the reservation wind up in tribal court.

Kathryn Seaton, supervising attorney of the tribal law practice group for Montana Legal Services, said lawyers have to be licensed to practice there. Since most are not, the program provides opportunities for local lay advocates.

"By providing education and mentorship opportunities and case referrals to people from tribal communities who want to open up their own businesses and provide legal services to low- and moderate-income people who have legal issues in tribal courts," Seaton outlined.

Falls Down spoke to the American Bar Association about the incubator project, and noted other legal aid organizations are considering replicating it elsewhere in the country.

Disclosure: The Montana Legal Services Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Poverty Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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