Oklahoma Indian Legal Services providing legal representation, advice amidst pandemic
Oklahoma Indian Legal Services is still providing legal representation and advice during the COVID-19 pandemic with help being a phone call away. COURTESY
In this pre-pandemic photo, Oklahoma Indian Legal Services attorney and Cherokee Nation citizen Mary Beth Williams helps an elderly Native American woman. Williams works on an eight-attorney team and is one of two CN citizens serving. COURTESY
Pictured are Oklahoma Indian Legal Services attorney and Cherokee Nation citizen Kace Rodwell, left, and OILS Executive Director Stephanie Hudson OILS provides legal representation and advice to Native Americans. COURTESY
OKLAHOMA CITY – Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma Indian Legal Services is serving Native Americans in Oklahoma though legal representation, advice or pointing individuals in the right direction for their legal needs.
OILS Executive Director and Kiowa Tribe citizen Stephanie Hudson said there are numerous citizens in the Cherokee Nation who are experiencing unemployment and evictions, and to not let the pandemic stop them from seeking legal help.
“OILS is still providing full services to tribal members who are experiencing legal issues that are related to their status as a Native American,” she said. “If we can point them in the right direction or give them some advice or assist them right now, we will do that. If we can’t provide the answer we will connect them with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, who is doing a tremendous job assisting people with unemployment and evection issues right now.”
While OILS is seeing a lot of unemployment and eviction cases, Hudson said there has been a large increase in families having issues related to divorce, custody and visitation rights.
“What we’re trying to do in those situations is have an attorney who can talk with them and provide them some advice over the telephone and maybe even be able to provide paperwork,” she said.
Hudson said OILS helps tribal citizens who meet federal poverty guidelines, which she said “a lot” do. “If an elder is trying to make a living off of their Social Security income, usually they’ll meet our income guidelines. Families who have children, quite often they will meet our guidelines.”
Hudson said OILS annually assists nearly 1,000 people with some form of representation. However, she said its reach is “several thousand” annually due to education and outreach.
“We’re probably reaching several thousand people per year in terms of educating them about the law, educating them about their rights, providing some type of assistance in terms of how to learn what their rights are in terms of the Indian Child Welfare Act,” she said. “We even educate youth in…how to deal with police stops if our young, brown gentlemen or ladies are stopped by police.”
Hudson said she believes what OILS does is important because without the organization Indian law issues would “fall through the cracks.”
“We (Native Americans) are (approximately) 10% of the population in the state of Oklahoma, but unless somebody is talking about a casino or something like that we don’t appear on news stories unless it’s with a tribal news story like (the Cherokee Phoenix),” she said. “Our issues that are affecting us like the Indian Child Welfare Act, our children not being cared for in the system properly, that falls through the cracks. Tribal land owners, they experience a great deal of issues trying to just manage their land because of the bureaucracy that exists from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, from the Department of Interior. Our organization is a resource when people are experiencing those issues that happen because they’re an Indian.”
OILS has two CN citizens on its eight-person attorney staff. Hudson said not all of the attorneys are Native but they have “a lot of experience in federal Indian law and tribal law.”
“All of them practice in the tribal courts around the state and we are active in the Cherokee Nation Tribal Courts and several of our attorneys are members of the Cherokee Nation Bar Association,” she said.
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