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Emma Weise

The Project

Emma (she/her/hers) provides legal advocacy and outreach to American Indian parents who are the survivors of intimate partner violence and are enmeshed in the child protection system.

American Indian children are drastically overrepresented in the child protection system. In the US overall, American Indian children are placed in foster care at a rate of 3 times their proportion of the general population, despite the protections provided by the Indian Child Welfare Act. One common basis for child removal from their parents’ custody is a “failure to protect,” where a family is brought to the attention of a child protection agency for reasons of intimate partner violence. American Indian survivors of intimate partner violence face a difficult choice between exposing their children to violence or reporting it and facing the possibility of child protection system involvement.

Emma’s family history motivates her commitment to helping families. She is honored to have the opportunity to help families like her grandmother’s maintain their connection.

Fellowship Plans

During her fellowship, Emma will represent American Indian parents in matters related to domestic violence and in child protection matters, with an aim towards preventing the need for out-of-home placement. In addition to engaging in this type of dual representation, Emma will provide pre-petition representation to families that are at risk of entering the child protection system by aiding in the extrication of survivors and children from situations that have the potential to trigger state involvement. Her pre-petition work will be facilitated by developing relationships with non-legal organizations that provide support to American Indian survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence. Emma will create and maintain connections with non-legal service providers to provide a holistic and streamlined network of support.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship allows me the opportunity to work to prevent the devastating loss of culture and connection that ripples through generations. As the granddaughter of an Indian boarding school survivor, I know the importance of maintaining family and tribal connections.

Emma Weise /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Henderson, a Native Hawaiian beneficiary of the Hawaiian Home Lands program, provides comprehensive outreach and advocacy to assist the over 60,000 eligible Native Hawaiians in applying for and keeping homestead housing.

Too many Native Hawaiians are landless in their own birthplace. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ (DHHL) homesteading program—which offers 99 year homestead leases at $1 per year for residential, agricultural, or pastoral purposes to Native Hawaiians with at least 50% blood quantum—is the best affordable housing option for Native Hawaiians today. More leases for homesteads must be issued, and those fortunate enough to receive a lease need assistance meeting their legal and financial obligations. Lease cancellation risks intergenerational disruption, since leases may be extended for up to 199 years total, and exacerbates Hawaii’s homeless crisis, which is the worst in the country and affects Native Hawaiians disproportionately.

Henderson’s project empowers Native Hawaiians who are eligible to participate in the Hawaiian Home Lands homestead lease program. He does so by educating them on their legal rights, providing direct legal services, advocating for policy reform, and fostering community partnerships and collaboration—all in service to individual beneficiaries and homesteading communities statewide. Henderson’s upbringing in the Waimānalo, Oʻahu homesteading community helped inform the creation of this project. Witnessing first-hand the challenges his community faced, the potential long-term benefits the Home Lands program offers Native Hawaiian families, and the stories of struggle and triumph shared by kupuna (elders) motivated Henderson to find a way to empower and advocate for his community.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Henderson has:

  • Developed several components of a handbook for Native Hawaiian beneficiaries that outlines their legal rights and obligations.
  • Developed and fostered community partnerships with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and several Native Hawaiian serving organizations to collaborate on the implementation of this Fellowship and to identify common legal concerns.
  • Provided information, advice, and brief services benefiting 83 Native Hawaiian beneficiaries statewide.
  • Provided full legal representation to six individuals, including one high-impact case which affects or impacts all Native Hawaiian beneficiaries.
  • Participated in several community events, where he presented information regarding the Fellowship, the available services, and common legal barriers faced by Native Hawaiian beneficiaries.

Next Steps

In the next six months, Henderson plans to:

  • Continue providing direct legal services to Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries and lessees.
  • Publish a handbook for Native Hawaiian beneficiaries that outlines their legal rights and obligations.
  • Host seven pop-up legal clinic programs to provide beneficiaries with educational materials and legal resources and services.


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Legal Minds, Native Values

Having benefitted from the homestead program, I fully understand the intergenerational stability a homestead provides an ʻohana (family). Homesteading opportunities can make the difference between stable housing or no housing at all.

Henderson Huihui /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jessica worked to support tribal communities and child welfare systems to prevent, identify, and address the commercial sexual exploitation of Native youth in California by elevating the voices of Native people and lived experience experts, building awareness about the issue, and collaborating with other nonprofits, state agencies, and systems.

Centuries of eradication, erasure, and assimilation-based policies have sought to separate and destabilize Native families. As a result, a deep mistrust between Native communities and local, state, and federal governments developed. These policies resulted in Native youth facing higher than average rates of addiction, suicide, health disparities, and low academic achievement. One of the most pernicious remnants of this systematic oppression is the ongoing commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) of Native youth. Despite legal and policy changes across the state recognizing that CSE is an issue of child abuse, little has been done to address this issue among Native youth.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Jessica:

  • Developed a first-of-its-kind report titled “Supporting Native Youth Impacted by Exploitation: A Call to Action for Advocates”
  • Presented the report to both national and statewide audiences at the National Association of Counsel for Children’s 45th Annual Conference and through the CSEC Action Team, a multidisciplinary body of substantive experts in California
  • Built meaningful relationships with various stakeholders including survivors of exploitation, county and Tribal social workers, service providers, advocates, judges, and other attorneys
  • Built a cohort of multidisciplinary partners to continue building awareness about the issue post-fellowship
  • Worked with a statewide coalition to pass the Justice for Survivors Act (AB 124)

Next Steps

Jessica will be providing training and technical assistance to California counties on how to better support Native youth impacted by exploitation through her consulting role with the Child and Family Policy Institute of California. She will also be joining the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office as a Deputy Public Defender.


Supporting Native Youth Impacted by Exploitation: A Call to Action for Advocates

Collaboration between tribal communities and local governments is essential to effectively address the needs of CSE tribal youth. Bearing witness to survivors’ lived experiences and using these experiences to drive policy is a crucial step in addressing this pressing issue.

Jessica Valadez /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Hyun-mi’s Fellowship aimed to protect the civil and legal rights of indigenous children and women afforded under the California Indian Child Welfare Act (Cal-ICWA) and applicable provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) through legal advocacy, community education, collaboration with tribal lawyers, and community organizations led by indigenous advocates and legal workshops with judicial personnel of county and state courts in the SF Bay Area.

The vast majority of juvenile dependency cases involving ICWA issues arise from a familial environment imperiled by domestic violence and/or substance abuse. Although ICWA does not apply to family law proceedings between parents, ICWA can be triggered in domestic violence cases when neither parent is deemed by the court to be fit to raise a child in a safe and healthy environment. My Fellowship played an essential and unique role in addressing the issue of violence against indigenous women. I provided assistance to obtain a restraining order and at the same time informed a victim/survivor of her, her child, and her tribe’s rights afforded under ICWA should an indigenous child be removed from his/her household due to domestic violence. My Fellowship project provided legal advocacy that recognized important intersectional issues between ICWA and violence against indigenous women.

Hyun-mi and her family immigrated to the US in 1995 and it was not until after she took courses in Native American history in college that she started to seriously consider the meaning of “indigeneity,” and the paradox that the land that was taken from indigenous people was the same land that immigrants, including her family, aspire to settle on, in search for a better life.

Fellowship Highlights

Some of Hyun-mi’s accomplishments during her two-year Fellowship include:

  • On May 17, 2021, Hyun-mi was invited to join the panel commemorating the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in San Francisco, CA. The attendees were comprised of city legislators, policy commissioners, lawyers, advocates, and activists.
  • On November 10, 2021, Hyun-Mi conducted the 1.5 webinar about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and Family Separation. This event was organized by the Judicial Council of California and sponsored by the Center for Families, Children & the Courts, and the California Department of Social Services. The event was attended by the city legislators, the staff of the Judicial Council, dependency attorneys, child welfare advocates, and law professors.

Next Steps

Hyun-mi will continue to provide legal advocacy to clients and community education to stakeholders on the issues pertinent to ICWA and violence against indigenous women. Additionally, Hyun-mi will be active in DV prevention work at API Legal Outreach.


Two law students earn prestigious Equal Justice Works fellowships

The Project

Crystal provided legal support and engaged in community organizing and political advocacy for Indigenous students and families who are disproportionately affected by the school-to-prison pipeline.

Culturally-uninformed school discipline proceedings disproportionately affect students of color in Washington State. Compared to their peers, Native American students specifically are 30% more likely to experience long-term school discipline and referrals to the juvenile justice system, twice as likely to repeat a grade, and three times as likely to drop out of school. Native students often lack legal advocacy during discipline hearings, leading to devastating long-term impacts on their access to education.

When many education services moved to remote access only because of COVID-19, tribal communities struggled to maintain a connection to imperative services. In the education equity context, Native American students living in areas with little to no broadband internet access were at risk of falling behind because they were unable to access the school classroom and educational materials online.

Fellowship Highlights

During her two-year Fellowship, Crystal:

  • Provided advice and brief service to 200 clients on school discipline, first amendment law, and tribal broadband law through know-your-rights events, ALCU intake line, and community referrals
  • Engaged in legal advocacy related to the rights of Native Americans in detention and prisons
  • Filed multiple amicus briefs addressing anti-Native American disparities in the Washington child welfare system
  • Attended 150 meetings for stakeholder groups and Native American community organizations on broadband expansion and school reopening
  • Provided counsel to representatives from several Washington tribes on federal broadband expansion bills
  • Lobbied to the state legislature for equitable broadband service deployment

Next Steps

Crystal will join the Seattle public interest law firm Ziontz Chestnut as an associate attorney, where she will represent tribes and related entities across a variety of federal Indian law issues.


Indigenous struggles, Indigenous resilience

2020 Scales of Justice Highlights

As an Equal Justice Works Fellow, I’m committed to addressing the needs of Native American youth in Washington, and I’m eager to work to ensure their secure access to education.

Crystal Pardue /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Robert assisted Tribal nations in Wisconsin to bolster Tribal environmental sovereignty and protect natural resources/relatives, in particular clean water.

Long-running failures by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources to properly administer the Clean Water Act have left critical waters insufficiently protected. Public health, cultural practices, and Tribal sovereignty are all impacted by state and federal failures to fully understand and respect Tribal relations to water. This is why Tribes must have a direct hand in environmental decision-making, through setting their own environmental standards and having more equitable involvement in federal and state processes.

Robert was interested in and inspired by Midwest Environmental Advocates’ community-centered approach to environmental lawyering since volunteering with them before he attended law school. Further, he sees sustainable relations to water, air, and land as inextricably linked to proper recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and the complicated histories of colonization that continue to reverberate today.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Robert:

  • Engaged Tribal and State officials on various paths to improve consultation based on extensive research of best practices across the U.S.
  • Developed numerous public guides on issues at the intersection of environmental protection and Tribal rights
  • Supported coalitions of Tribal and non-profit staff and local residents concerned about impacts of extractive industries such as metallic mining and oil pipelines
  • Represented non-profits and Tribal nations before multiple administrative agencies and courts

Next Steps

After the fellowship, Robert will join Earthjustice’s Tribal Partnerships Program as a Legal Fellow where they will continue working on issues related to Tribal environmental sovereignty. Earthjustice is a premier national nonprofit environmental law organization.


Supporting Tribal Environmental Sovereignty

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Project

Leroy’s project had three objectives: recruitment of pro bono attorneys, coordination of pro bono projects at the University of South Dakota School of Law and provision of direct legal services. As of 2009, there were 10 projects at the law school covering the following areas of law; human rights, family law, Indian law, tax, public defense, veterans rights, elder law, environmental law, and domestic violence. Leroy’s caseload throughout this Fellowship consisted primarily of family law cases.

Next Steps

In 2023, LaPlante was named associate vice president for the Wokini Initiative at South Dakota State University, SDSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.


J.R. Laplante Named Associate VP for Wokini Initiative at South Dakota State University

The Project

Joseph supported the work of Montana Legal Services Association and assisted low-income Native clients with Indian law issues.