Second-year law student Rachel Hampson has spent her summer immersed in research and outreach for the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC). MITSC is an independent inter-governmental entity that, among other responsibilities, continually reviews the effectiveness of the social, economic and legal relationship between the Wabanaki Indian tribes and the state of Maine.
“River restoration and sustenance fishing rights are a current focus of MITSC, for example,” Hampson said. “I have been asked to research whether the treaty obligations assumed in 1820 are relevant to Maine’s current water management policies. I have been tasked with creating a research log of litigation and supplemental materials regarding the rights of tribal members to engage in their traditional cultural practices, including sustenance fishing.”
Her efforts have led her to meet with several tribal members to learn firsthand about the topics she is researching.
“I met with a Passamaquoddy tribal member who has been working on river restoration for many years,” Hampson said. “He explained how commercial industries and state policy have negatively affected the ability of fish like salmon and herring to travel the Maine rivers for spawning. His efforts to improve the fish population so that tribal members may practice sustenance fishing were inspiring.”
Hampson pursued the position with MITSC as part of St. Thomas Law’s Externship Program, which offers students the opportunity to gain relevant professional experience. Her position is one of two externships funded this summer by the St. Thomas Minnesota Justice Foundation (MJF) Student Chapter through a Public Interest Law Fellowship (PILF) grant.
Working in a public interest legal externship is exactly what Hampson said she was hoping to do this summer. She said she specifically wanted to contribute to an organization that is working to improve the relationship between tribal communities and state government. It is a topic she is familiar with because of her father, a legal aid attorney who has specialized in Indian law for the past 30 years.
The externship also provided Hampson with a chance to get back to Maine, where she was born and spent some of her childhood (her family also lived in California, New York and Minnesota) and worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer after college. The AmeriCorps position is what first brought Hampson to the part of Maine known as “downeast,” which comprises an area along the coast in the easternmost part of the state and includes two Indian reservations who have representatives to MITSC.
“Downeast is an intriguing place,” Hampson said. “It combines the awesome natural beauty of the Maine coast with a population of people who are extremely hardworking and community-minded, while struggling with some of the worst statistics of poverty, unemployment and health issues in the country. I had been looking for an opportunity to serve the community here and with the new governor and momentum from the Maine Legislature, working for MITSC at this dynamic time was the perfect opportunity.”
This summer, as she has gone about her work, Hampson said she has regularly recalled skills she learned and cases she studied in her St. Thomas Law classes.
“From day one I have applied the research skills I gained from my Lawyering Skills class with Professor Ben Carpenter, and the workshops offered by the law librarians,” Hampson said. “Many of the cases I have been researching have complicated jurisdictional and procedural issues and cite to the cases we studied in Civil Procedure with Professor Michael Paulsen. I’ve also employed Professor Jerry Organ’s method of listing pertinent questions when I’m given a task, to organize my thoughts and develop the scope of my research.”
Hampson’s externship hasn’t been all work, however: She said she has taken time to enjoy the advantages of a summer on the downeast Maine coast.
“My externship has been amazing,” Hampson said. “And it has had the added benefit of fresh lobsters and clams every day!”