Lauren Veronica van Schilfgaarde (Cochiti Pueblo) is the Tribal Law Specialist for the Tribal Law and Policy Institute (TLPI), a Native American owned and operated non-profit organization that designs and delivers education, research, training, and technical assistance programs which promote the enhancement of justice in Indian country and the health, well-being, and culture of Native peoples. At TLPI, Lauren coordinates training and research for tribal justice systems on issues of jurisdiction, funding, and restorative justice, including for Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts, also known as drug courts. While in law school, Lauren clerked for the Native American Rights Fund and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
Lauren holds a J.D. from UCLA School of Law. While at UCLA, Lauren served as the President of the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) and served on the Board of the National NALSA. Lauren also holds a B.A. in Religion from Colorado College.
Lauren is admitted to practice law in the State of California.
In addition to serving as an alternate NNABA representative for the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, Lauren also serves on the board of the California Indian Law Association.
Q& A With Lauren:
1. Where are you from?
I was born in Santa Fe, NM and raised in Albuquerque. My mother was born and raised in Santa Fe, spending numerous summers at Cochiti. My entire family still resides in New Mexico, all along the Rio Grande, including my father and brother in Albuquerque. Ryan and I love to visit often, mostly to support our chile habit.
2. How did you decide to become a lawyer? Did you always want to practice Indian law and/or work for a tribe? Why or why not?
Despite not having gone to college, both of my parents were extremely adamant about my own attendance. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue education, and while not knowing exactly what lawyers did, I did know that I wanted to advocate. However, it was not until I was already in law school that I learned the true vastness and diversity of Native nations, of the opportunities in, but also absurd complexity of tribal sovereignty, and of the great amount of work that has been done and remains to be done. Federal Indian Law I, with Professor Angela Riley, was a game-changer. I’ve been hooked ever since.
3. To date, what do you think is your most notable accomplishment – either legal or personal?
I am still very early into my career, and have dreams of contributing far more to Native America. Thus far, however, I consider my most noble accomplishment to be the work with the Alaska Natives of the Bristol Bay regional tribes in their path towards establishing a regional court system that includes a restorative justice component. Despite all of the barriers that the State would like to impose, these tribes are relentless in their expression of sovereignty and commitment towards serving their members. I expect big things.
4. Is there anything in your career that you have not yet accomplished that you have set as a goal for yourself? If so, what is that? If not, do you plan to retire at some point or try another career?
Much. I would love to help further the loosening of federal restraint on tribal sovereignty. I would love to continue to help establish and enhance tribal justice systems. Mostly, I am eager to be just be a part of the exciting next chapter of flourishing tribes.
5. Why did you join NNABA? What would you like to see the organization do or accomplish in the near and/or distant future?
NNABA is an impressive collection of movers and shakers that I am honored to mingle with. I think NNABA is uniquely positioned to advocate both for Native attorneys in all jurisdictions, as well as tribal bar members.
6. Do you have any advice for new lawyers? If so, what is it?
Like any industry, the law is made up of people. Introduce yourself.