“I went to law school to be a better advocate, because I wanted to do something about all this injustice I was seeing and experiencing as a little kid in Oklahoma.” – Muscogee (Creek) citizen Ashleigh Fixico
Lani Hansen/Senior Reporter
SEMINOLE, Oklahoma– Over the past two years, two Muscogee (Creek) citizens have been selected to participate in the Native American Rights Fund’s summer law clerk program. The program is designed for law students to help broaden their knowledge of federal Indian law.
According to the NARF website, this program is highly competitive and has trained hundreds of talented students who have gone to serve Indian Country in a variety of ways. Throughout the summer, they highlighted some of their law students working in their offices.
Muscogee (Creek) citizen Ashleigh Fixico from Seminole, Oklahoma was highlighted this summer as one of their clerks. Fixico is Fuswvlke (bird clan) and her tribal town is Hecete. She graduated from Dartmouth College with a B.A. in Government and a B.A. in Native American Studies modified with Hispanic Studies.
Fixico is a rising 2L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. At ASU, she is the President of the Native American Law Student Association and is an Associate Editor of the Law Journal for Social Justice. Fixico is an O’Connor Merit Scholar and one of the first Salt River Scholars sponsored by the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.
Some of Fixico’s other accomplishments include; interning with the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women through the Udall Native American Congressional Internship, named the Wilma Mankiller Policy Fellow for the National Congress of American Indians and has worked with Pipestem Law, P.C. as a Legal and Policy Analyst in Tulsa.
Fixico is currently the summer law clerk for the Boulder, CO office as a rising 2L.
“What we do is a lot of research and writing to help out the Native American Rights Fund,” Fixico said. “It’s a little interesting because, typically this position is for second year law students and I’m a first year law student. I feel like this summer has been a learning experience for me, because I have used the skills I’ve gained from my first year and see what skills I need to work on.”
Fixico stated she was the only upcoming 2L student in this program, while others were at least third year. She applied for the clerk position after one of her former colleagues, who is Muscogee (Creek), was in the summer law clerk program as an upcoming 2L in 2020.
“I took the chance to apply, because typically whenever positions say they want a second year or third year law student they are pretty firm of that,” Fixico said. “Your first year of law school all students across the country take the same classes, so we have the same skills set. So there is definitely why some places take second year law students.”
Fixico always knew she wanted to go into law school because of the injustices she saw in the world. She also used to read a lot as a kid and the books she would pick up on Native Americans were not happy stories.
“I grew up with my grandparents, and hearing them talk about all things that are wrong in the world not just in the Nation led me to be outspoken,” she said. “I really wanted to help anybody, and so the career I thought I could do that would be an attorney. I’m very fiery and vivacious, and so there is no other career I thought I could do the work I wanted to do.”
According to Fixico, there is a huge need for Native attorneys not just in Indian Country, but across the world. She believes it is important for other people of different diversities to understand Native issues, so there can be better allies and advocates.
“I went to law school to be a better advocate, because I wanted to do something about all this injustice I was seeing and experiencing as a little kid in Oklahoma,” Fixico said.
Being in the program and working as a clerk has given Fixico a better understanding of her work ethic. During the summer she has been working virtually, the office she works for is in Boulder and she is working from home in Seminole.
One of the things she learned about being an attorney is how it takes a lot of focus and patience. NARF has been good about challenging her.
“Something they are working on is redistricting…drawing the districts for Congressional and State Legislative,” Fixico said. “So that is cool I get to work on that.”
Fixico feels like her work at NARF is contributing to what the organization is doing, protecting and serving the rights of individual Indians and tribal nations.
In addition to this program, Fixico wanted to include some information about the Native American Pathway to Law Program.
“The Native American Pathway to Law Program started in 2015, it started with a partnership between ASU, Michigan State Indigenous Law Center, Berkeley Law and the American Indian Law Center. What it does is, all the schools work together and they don’t have any recruitment during this time. They help Native students get ready for law school,” Fixico said.
Emily Harwell from Prague, OK, completed the NARF internship in 2020. She graduated from Dartmouth College, where she served as President of the Native Americans at Dartmouth student organization. She also served as co-chair of the Dartmouth College powwow.
“I completed my first year of law school in May 2020, which was just after the pandemic hit the United States,” Harwell said. “Because of the pandemic I was able to apply for summer positions. I accepted the summer internship at the Native American Rights Fund. Usually they do not take first year students, I think because of the pandemic they were willing to expand their program and include first year.”
During her time with NARF, Harwell worked close to Jacqueline De León, a staff attorney who specializes in Native American voting rights issues. Since the 2020 Presidential elections were about to happen, Harwell was able to assist legal battles De León was fighting.
“We spent the summer either working on lawsuits or projects how they educate tribal communities about ways they can get out and vote,” she said. “As an intern at NARF, I was not only able to assist members of my own Nation but also many other tribal nations throughout the United States.”
Harwell is currently working at a law firm in New York City, where she is one of a few Native Americans on staff. She has been able to take what she learned from law school and her clerk internship to apply those skills to her work. Aside from working there, she is entering her last year at Cornell Law School.