TU Law student named Most Outstanding Scholar at Muscogee (Creek) Nation Scholars Forum

Early each summer, Oklahoma’s Muscogee (Creek) Nation holds a lively public gathering that features games, musical performances, arts and crafts displays, stompdancing, a parade and many other activities. For the second year in a row, the Muscogee Nation Festival included a Scholars Forum, which showcases various research projects being undertaken by tribal members pursuing advanced degrees.

One of the individuals selected to share her work at the June 2019 forum was University of Tulsa College of Law student Hannah Stidman. For the quality and impact of her work, Stidman received the Most Outstanding Scholar award.

“Hannah exemplifies commitment to building better communities,” said Lauren Donald, TU Law’s assistant dean for experiential learning. “She couples hard work in the classroom with meaningful opportunities outside of the classroom to expand her already impressive background in environmental and Native American issues. This award is a testament to Hannah’s high level of dedication and, no doubt, a preamble to a promising legal career.”

Environmental defense

Stidman’s poster presentation focused on the need for and benefits of creating the position of “legal head” of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Office of Environmental Services. This department strives to ensure that “members may live confidently in a safe and healthy environment.”

As Stidman explained, the Office of Environmental Services manages a large volume of legal issues. Currently, however, there is no lawyer with specialized environmental law knowledge specifically assigned to the Office. Instead, such legal work is handled by the nation’s Office of the Attorney General. Creating the position of legal head would not only save time and resources, Stidman reasoned, but also help her tribe in the work of “preserving its sacred land and waters” in the context of emergent changes wrought by climate change.

Environmental law

The seeds of Stidman’s concern for environmental well-being were planted early during a childhood spent in a “really small town” within a rural part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s territory. After graduating high school, Stidman completed – in just three years – a bachelor of science in business administration at Oklahoma State University, taking as many law-related courses as possible.

About to enter her second year at TU Law, Stidman remarked that “I am dedicated to learning as much as I can about environmental law. What’s interesting about this subject, and what I’m discovering more and more, is it’s so broad. I’m really interested in all the things that fall under that umbrella – for example, animal welfare as well as the quality of the water, air and land.”

This general interest in environmental law combined with Stidman’s desire to know what her tribe was doing about environmental sustainability and protection. Her first encounter with this arose as a result of an informational interview she conducted with Kevin Dellinger, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s attorney general, as part of her first-year Foundations of Legal Studies course at TU Law. Dellinger set off a “spark” for Stidman, which then, she explained, “led me to research the legal work done within the Office of Environmental Services. This formed the basis of my proposal for the creation of a legal head.”

Positive reception

During and since her participation at the Scholars Forum, Stidman has received a great deal of positive feedback on the merits of her proposal. Support has come from members of the Geospatial and Emergency Management departments all the way to the leader of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Principal Chief James Floyd. In fact, in recognition of her accomplishment, Chief Floyd presented Stidman with a luxurious, ceremonial Pendleton blanket emblazoned with the chief’s unique, personal iconography.

 

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