Except for the time I spent about 30 minutes just inside the Canada border when I was in 8th grade, I had never been out of the country. It made my experience participating in the OU Law International Human Rights Clinic that much more significant.
On May 19, two law students, a law professor and I embarked on our journey across two time zones, an ocean and thousands of miles to the French overseas region of French Guiana. French Guiana, or “Guyane” as the locals call it, is situated along the Atlantic Ocean in South America bordered by Brazil on one side and Suriname on the other. We were there for eight nights to experience local indigenous culture and customs and to conduct interviews about indigenous issues.
During our time there, we were able to connect with prominent members of Indigenous communities in Guyane including chiefs of indigenous villages. The chiefs told us about life in the village and what concerns they have for their people. We also met with leaders of organizations dedicated to indigenous rights who told us about the work they do to create a better life of indigenous populations in Guyane. And we met with government officials who shared with us the work France is doing to address indigenous people’s concerns and meet their needs.
Through the OU International Human Rights Clinic, we now have to opportunity to take what we learned about indigenous peoples in Guyane and share it with the international community. The students and professors will submit a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council about the status of human rights in their countries related to indigenous communities. The report will highlight the progress that France has made with regard to human rights in indigenous communities. It will also make recommendations that may help further progress the status of human rights in indigenous communities.
The OU International Human Rights Clinic has been a great opportunity, and it has allowed me to shape my perspective about indigenous communities throughout the world. It was amazing to witness the culture and be a beneficiary of the incredible generosity of indigenous communities in Guyane – not to mention, I now have a few more stamps in my passport.
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What led you to OU Law? I have wanted to go to law school since I was a teenager. I was active in speech contests and enjoyed making oral presentations. When I was in high school, I would go downtown and watch some of the trials at the courthouse, so, I got acquainted with the courtroom rather early. I obtained a Navy scholarship to go to OU. I was a regular Navy midshipman then I served three years in the far east before coming back to law school. I wanted to attend law school and came back to OU.
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What led you to OU Law? OU Law has been part of my family since the 1920s. My great uncle was Dr. Maurice Merrill, a 1922 graduate of OU Law who then earned a Doctorate in Law from Harvard University in 1925. Merrill taught at OU Law for 30 years, published numerous seminal works in oil and gas law, constitutional law, administrative law and the law of Notice. While still in his twenties, Merrill published the seminal treatise Implied Covenants in Oil and Gas Law, which has been a cornerstone of my cases. In law school, I lived with Uncle Maurice and marveled at his longhand scrawl which was literally final copy in its first draft form. In my mind, he will always be ten times the lawyer that I ever became.