The Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship


Gaye L. TenosoThe Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship

The Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship, part of the Attorney General's Honors Program, is designed to create a new pipeline of legal talent with expertise and deep experience in federal Indian law, tribal law, and Indian Country issues that can be deployed in creative ways to build tribal capacity, combat violent crime, and bolster public safety in Indian Country jurisdictions.

The Fellowship is named in honor of Department of Justice attorney, the late Gaye L. Tenoso. Gaye’s distinguished service to the Department and the people it serves spanned 30 years. For the last six years of her life Gaye served as the Deputy Director the Office of Tribal Justice. Gaye’s expertise in Federal Indian law and knowledge of Tribes enabled her to be an exceptionally effective advisor on litigation and policy matters. She worked tirelessly to ensure that specific protections for American Indian women were included in the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2013. Gaye also mentored many legal interns during her time at the Office of Tribal Justice, and was an inspiration and guide who left a deep impression on many young attorneys.

Prior to serving with the Office of Tribal Justice, Gaye worked for over 25 years in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in the Educational Opportunities Section and the Voting Section. While in the Voting Section, she received the high honor of being invited by the United States Solicitor General to sit at counsel table during the Supreme Court argument in Reno v. Bossier Parish School District. In addition, Gaye led the Civil Rights Division’s Election Monitoring Program to ensure the right to vote for all Americans. Gaye’s passion was to ensure American Indians were provided the same access to voting as others. She was instrumental in bringing cases against counties in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah to provide language assistance at the polls for American Indians, where she helped spearhead unprecedented remedies to provide voting opportunities for all.

Gaye was an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Indians. At the time of her passing, Gaye had been asked to serve as a Justice on her Tribe’s Supreme Court. Attorney General Eric Holder memorialized Gaye by saying she “was an inspiration to many and a lifelong champion of federal-tribal cooperation.” Gaye will be remembered for her lifelong passion for justice and her defense of civil rights.


Fellowship Details

Each Indian Country Fellowship position offers a 36-month appointment that may be extended or converted to a permanent position. Fellows will generally be assigned to a U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) with significant Indian Country work, but may have the opportunity to be assigned to a Main Justice Component with significant equities in Indian Country matters and law. Fellowship appointments may, at the hiring component’s discretion, be extended or converted to permanent positions without further competition. This year, the Indian Country Fellowship will place one Fellow in a U.S. Attorney's Office.  Candidates will interview with a joint panel of attorneys from the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) and USAOs.

Candidates who receive an offer of employment will be able to select their assignment preferences from the list of participating Districts. Actual placement will be mutually agreed upon by the Fellow and the District. In addition to the joint EOUSA/USAO selections, individual USAOs may offer additional Indian Country Fellowship positions at their discretion, with hiring conducted according to their regular procedures.

As part of your work with a USAO, Indian Country Fellows will be required to serve 12 months with an appropriate tribal legal entity, typically in a tribal prosecutor’s office. The assignment or detail may consist of a one-year detail to a single tribal legal or governmental entity or two six-month details to different tribal legal or governmental entities.

The Indian Country Fellowship is open to all eligible Honors Program applicants, including current law students graduating in the coming academic year.  The 2014-2015 Honors Program application opens on July 31st and closes on September 2nd.  There are a few requirements associated with bar admission that applicants should consider:

  • Fellows who accept an offer from a USAO located in a jurisdiction that requires State bar admission must become admitted to that bar within 12 months of entry on duty.
  • Whether or not the USAO is located in a jurisdiction that requires admission to that State’s bar, all Indian Country Fellows hired by USAOs must be admitted to a bar (any U.S. jurisdiction) within 12 months of appointment.
  • Incoming Fellows who are not admitted to a bar (or who have not recently taken a bar with results pending) are expected to take the first available bar examination for which they are eligible (e.g., a May 2015 law school graduate should take the July 2015 bar exam).

Possible U.S. Attorney's Office placements for 2014 include:

District of Arizona | District of Colorado | District of Minnesota | Southern District of Mississippi | District of Nebraska | District of North Dakota | District of South Dakota | Eastern District Oklahoma |  Northern District of Oklahoma

District of Arizona

Bar Admission RequirementsState Bar admission (any State or the District of Columbia) is required.  The Fellow must obtain Pasqua Yaqui Tribal Bar Certification, which involves taking a class and passing a multiple-choice test.

There are 22 federally recognized Indian Tribes within the District of Arizona, including much of the Navajo Nation (the largest Indian Reservation in the country).  The District of Arizona works closely with the Tribes to promote public safety with the Indian Country communities, and accounts for nearly one-third of the Indian Country matters handled nationwide.  Our goal is to establish a holistic approach to Indian Country criminal justice, incorporating traditional beliefs and values into a system that seeks to hold offenders accountable for their actions, while working to ultimately reintegrate those offenders as productive and accepted members of their communities.  An Indian Country Fellow would learn and experience the Federal and Tribal Justice systems as they relate to offenders, victims, and witnesses.  For example, the Fellow would have the opportunity to work with the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe, one of the initial three Tribes in the Nation to participate in the DOJ pilot program of expanded jurisdiction under the Violence Against Women Act, to perfect their system of expanded jurisdiction over non-tribal domestic violence offenders.  The Pasqua Yaqui Reservation is located near Tucson.  In FY 2012-2013, the Tribal Prosecutor’s Office filed 698 cases, mostly criminal matters, with a high volume of domestic violence cases.

District of Colorado

Bar Admission Requirements:  An Indian Country (IC) Fellow must graduate from an accredited law school, be admitted to a bar (any State or the District of Columbia), and be licensed to practice in a state to join the U.S. District Court Bar in Colorado.

The Durango Branch Office handles all the Indian Country Crimes in the District of Colorado and is in close proximity to two Colorado Tribes (Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute).  Both tribes reside on exclusive federal jurisdiction reservations covering large geographic areas.  The Durango Branch has its own Grand Jury and an active Special Assistant United States Attorney (SAUSA) program in place with the Southern Ute Tribe.  The case load is moderately heavy.  Typical IC criminal prosecutions include homicides, sexual assaults, other assaults, drug offenses, alcohol-related offenses, domestic abuse, and an increasing number of methamphetamine and gang-related crimes.  The case load is also notable for the intensity of its concomitant, high-impact victim work.  An Indian Country Fellow would be invaluable in our work with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, which has experienced difficulty maintaining an effective tribal court.  The Fellow would provide a vital link with the tribal prosecutor and tribal court of cases of significance and facilitate a Bureau of Indian Affairs focused “recidivism reduction” program by working to strengthen the tribal court.  The District has a stable relationship with the Southern Ute Reservation, which offers a strong tribal prosecutor who is also a SAUSA; but a Fellow interacting with this reservation would enhance an already strong relationship between the Tribe and the USAO.

District of Minnesota

Bar Admission Requirements:  Admission to Minnesota bar preferred but not required.  State Bar admission (any State or the District of Columbia) is required.

The District of Minnesota is home to 11 federally-recognized tribal nations.  The USAO has exclusive federal criminal jurisdiction on the Red Lake and Bois Forte Indian reservations, and concurrent federal criminal jurisdiction on the White Earth Indian Reservation.   For many years, the USAO has maintained a robust Indian Country (IC) practice with the Red Lake and Bois Forte.  After the Tribal Law and Order Act passed in 2010, and with assumption of concurrent federal criminal jurisdiction, the USAO has faced a need for greater communication with not only the Red Lake and Bois Forte, but also White Earth and the remaining tribal nations located in the District.  Additionally, the USAO is addressing challenges associated with coordinating increased IC caseloads.  The Red Lake, White Earth, and Bois Forte reservations are over 220 miles from the USAO – and the distance has, at times, been a barrier to effective and efficient communication, especially when significant matters arise on all three Reservations simultaneously.  An Indian Country Fellow in the District of Minnesota would be an invaluable resource and cement the strong existing working relationships by direct placement within Indian Country for at least 12 months.  Through tribal details, the Fellow will assist in providing a greater understanding to all parties about tribal court and federal court practices, and in establishing a consistent framework for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes occurring in Indian Country as criminal jurisdiction within the District changes.

Southern District of Mississippi

Bar Admission Requirements:  Admission to the Mississippi bar is required.  Fellow must become admitted to practice before the Choctaw Court pursuant to Choctaw Tribal Code §§ 1-4-1; 1-4-2.  For information, see the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indian Code.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is a federal-recognized, self-governing tribe in east-central Mississippi.Federal and Tribal Law is enforced by a small Tribal police force (currently four full-time nonsupervisory investigators) responsible for investigating all offenses, regardless of severity.Training shortfalls and the workload assigned to each investigator results in under-investigated felonies that otherwise could be prosecuted in Federal court.The Tribe is also served by two FBI agents from the Meridian, MS resident agency (about an hour away), who are routinely assigned non-Indian Country cases.The Fellow will serve not only as prosecutor, but also as a primary advisor to Tribal law enforcement in proper investigative techniques, report writing, case analysis, trial preparation, and related matters required to successfully prosecute a case in federal court as opposed to tribal court.This is an exciting opportunity for a motivated, goal-oriented attorney interested in a hands-on role through the full-range of the law enforcement process.

District of Nebraska

Bar Admission Requirements:  State Bar admission (any State or the District of Columbia) is required.  A resolution from the tribal council granting authorization to prosecute cases in the tribal court is required.

The District of Nebraska is responsible for three reservations – Omaha Nation, Santee Sioux, and Winnebago.  The bulk of the USAO’s Indian Country (IC) cases are violent crime cases, which, by the nature, require the immediate time and attention of an assigned Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) or Special Assistant U.S. Attorney (SAUSA).  Violent crime cases include sexual assaults, assaults resulting in serious bodily injury, and assaults with a dangerous weapon; however, there are also manslaughter cases, assaults on federal police officers, and burglaries.  Non-violent cases are primarily embezzlement cases.  Currently assigned to handle the bulk of the IC caseload are one AUSA (who also functions as the Tribal Liaison and Deputy Chief of the General Crimes Unit) and a Tribal SAUSA, who prosecutes cases in both tribal and federal court on each of the three reservations.  The majority of the Tribal SAUSA’s federal workload falls under the Federal Assault Statute and the Habitual Offender in Indian Country Statute.  The Tribal SAUSA also handles the majority of the sexual assault cases.  The presence of the Tribal SAUSA on the reservations has built a comfort level among the tribes, tribal law enforcement, tribal prosecutors, and the community that has encouraged the reporting and the prosecution of domestic violence cases.

The goals and structure of the Indian Country Fellowship are ideally suited to maintaining these relationships and are necessary in order to assist tribes with improving their courts to meet the requirements to exercise felony jurisdiction under the Tribal Law and Order Act.  Additionally, methamphetamine and other drug trafficking and abuse are largely an unaddressed problem on the three reservations.  The Fellow may be tasked to train and work with tribal police to improve investigations and conduct pre-trial preparation.  We anticipate the Fellow’s regular interaction with the community will help develop trust so that tribal members will be more willing to provide information and participate in the judicial process.  The Fellow will be assigned cases from all three reservations for purposes of federal prosecutions; however, he or she will be initially assigned solely to the Winnebago Tribal Court for prosecution of tribal cases, starting with child abuse and neglect cases.  As the Fellow gains experience, we will consider assigning the Fellow cases from the Santee Sioux and Omaha Reservations or, alternatively, develop a plan to rotate the Fellow among the reservations to gain a broader perspective on tribal court operations.

District of North Dakota (Western Division, Bismark branch office)

Bar Admission Requirements:  State Bar admission (any State or the District of Columbia) is required.  Local Rules provide any member in good standing of the bar of any Federal court or of the highest court of any state or the District of Columbia may apply for admission to the bar of the United Sates District Court for the District of North Dakota.

The District of North Dakota has four dedicated full-time Indian Country (IC) AUSAs and as many as ten non-IC AUSAs prosecuting major crimes, serious felonies, domestic violence, and other federal offenses occurring on five reservations in the state.  The United States has exclusive federal jurisdiction over certain offenses on each reservation.  Three large reservations and the Trenton Indian Service Area (a dependent Indian Community) are within the Western Division, home to Bakken oil shale development, which has made North Dakota number one in the United States for population growth and number two in oil production after Texas.  The Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation lies geographically near the middle of the Bakken.  Bakken-related law enforcement challenges affect all of North Dakota and its Indian Country areas.  Violent crime (e.g., adult and child homicides, child physical and sexual assault, rape), large scale drug trafficking, organized crime, gang activity, white collar fraud, public corruption, domestic violence, environmental and natural resource related offenses, and human trafficking are among the offenses regularly included in rising Western Division and IC case loads.  Indian Country violent crime cases filed have risen by more than 50% in the last three years; non-violent IC cases have nearly doubled.  Our goal is to assign the Indian Country Fellow to the prosecution team combatting these criminal cases and to deploy the Fellow to help forge stronger and more effective partnerships with Tribal courts to meet the pace of growth and do more to assure public safety in Indian Country.

District of South Dakota

Bar Admission Requirements:  Admission to South Dakota bar required within one year of assignment.  Any attorney who is an active member in good standing of the South Dakota State Bar, or any attorney certified and eligible to practice before the highest court of any other state or the Supreme Court of the United States is eligible to be admitted to practice before the Courts of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

The District of South Dakota has primary jurisdiction for federal offenses on nine Indian reservations, one of which includes land in both North and South Dakota.  Historically, Indian Country (IC) cases comprise over half of the total cases prosecuted in the District, with recent increases in prosecutions on the Cheyenne River, Flandreau, and Yankton Sioux Reservations, as well as the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations.  Violent crimes and sexual abuse comprise the majority of IC cases.  The remainder includes assault offenses, murder/manslaughter, drug, and firearms cases.

The District is focused on making tribal communities safer.  In addition to federal prosecutions, we anticipate the Fellow will work hand-in-hand with Tribal SAUSAs and AUSAs assigned to effectively manage which jurisdiction is best suited to bring criminal charges by participating in regular meetings to discuss cases, work on indictments, and participate in grand jury proceedings, court proceedings, and jury trials.  The District does not believe that prosecutions alone will make tribal communities safer;  the Fellow will also engage in community outreach with our tribal partners to build cooperative and productive relationships based on mutual trust and respect.  The Fellow will join AUSAs in providing training and information to local school officials, Indian Health Service personnel, community groups, and youth organizations.  The Fellow will also participate in meetings with law enforcement, domestic violence and abuse advocates, state and tribal social services providers, and medical personnel to address the best ways to protect the most vulnerable victims – children – to ensure the provision of all necessary services and address criminal matters.

Eastern District of Oklahoma

Bar Admission Requirements:  State Bar admission (any State or the District of Columbia) is required.

The Eastern District of Oklahoma is home to nine federally recognized tribes representing over a million tribal members:  Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (the largest tribe in the United States), Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation, Seminole Nation, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, Alabama-Quasserte Tribal Town, and the Kialegee Tribal Town.  Each tribe operates casinos, which has resulted in a significant increase in economic and violent crimes on casino property and has led to more complex investigations/prosecutions of tribal officials involved in corruption.

Current and recent cases involve murder, kidnapping, child abuse, distribution of illegal narcotics, armed robbery, serious assaults, arson, firearm violations, and white collar crimes ranging from simple employee embezzlements to complex conspiracies and frauds involving millions of dollars.  The sole Indian Country (IC) AUSA/Tribal Liaison is currently assigned to 38 cases, while also handling two first-degree murder cases, multiple domestic violence cases/assaults, and numerous economic cases involving corruption, theft, and embezzlement.  Methamphetamine offenses and trafficking continue to be a significant problem.  We anticipate that an Indian Country Fellow would be primarily assigned to the Criminal Division, although the Civil Division is also actively involved in IC and offers cases involving medical malpractice defense for 23 Indian Health Care facilities under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  Our district defends 10 to 15 major malpractice cases annually that subject the United States to millions of dollars in liability.  In addition to an active caseload, the Fellow will participate in regular outreach within the tribes.

Northern District of Oklahoma

Bar Admission Requirements:  Bar admission (any State or the District of Columbia) is required.

The USAO for the Northern District of Oklahoma regards its federal trust responsibilities to the 14 federally recognized tribes within its jurisdiction as a significant priority.  Three Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) form “Team Indian Country.” Their work is dedicated to Indian Country matters including, but not limited to, prosecution of criminal matters arising from concurrent or exclusive federal jurisdiction, coordination with tribal leaders and tribal law enforcement officials regarding justice issues, and serving as liaison with the Attorney General’s Native American Issues Sub-Committee and the DOJ Office of Tribal Justice to ensure uniformity in Department policies and litigation positions with regard to Indian Country. Typical criminal prosecutions include federal narcotics and firearms violations, violent crimes (rape, child abuse and domestic violence, burglary, and robbery) as well as white collar crimes, including theft from Indian casinos, public corruption, and other non-violent crimes.  Team Indian Country serves as the primary contacts with tribal leaders and law enforcement officials, and in-house experts for the USAO regarding federal Indian law.  All the Indian Country AUSAs serve as instructors or presenters at conferences providing training to tribal and state law enforcement officers and social services personnel regarding the identification, investigation, and prosecution of crimes in Indian Country.  The Fellow would participate fully with these experienced prosecutors in Federal criminal investigations, case development, and jury trials.  Furthermore, the Fellow would be an integral part of the District’s outreach efforts to coordinate and communicate with federal recognized tribes on a government-to-government basis.  Given the unique nature of Indian Country in Oklahoma, the USAO has secured the commitment of three separate tribal Attorneys General, who welcome the opportunity to work with the Indian Country Fellow.