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A WMU professor studies court cases involving indigenous Americans

white columns on the front of of the U.S. Supreme Court
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
The Supreme Court as seen in Washington, on Nov. 5, 2020.

Political science professor Mark Hurwitz is part of a research team that includes two professors from the University of Texas at El Paso.

A team of researchers, including one from Western Michigan University, has received a grant to help fund the study of hundreds of court cases involving Native Americans.

The National Science Foundation awarded $400,000 to WMU political scientist Mark Hurwitz and two professors from the University of Texas at El Paso.  

Hurwitz said the team will look at cases from state supreme courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’ll get an idea about what’s going on at a much more systematic level,” he said. “And we think that’s critically vital, because we just don’t know.”

The researchers have examined about 400 cases so far and expect to analyze as many as several thousand.

“It could be about fishing rights, it could be a criminal issue, whatever it happens to be, if an indigenous party is involved, we want to see who won,” said Hurwitz.  

Rebecca Reid is a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and the lead researcher on the project. Reid said this is the first large-scale analysis of judicial decisions involving indigenous peoples. The team is looking at the outcome of cases as well as issues of discrimination.

“My hope is that it will help facilitate more effective advocacy and less oppression by courts in the recognition of indigenous peoples' sovereignty and rights,” said Reid. “And that we will be able to use our institutional resources to help serve in that sense.”

The research team includes several WMU students. The project is expected to continue through 2026.