Gloria Valencia-Weber, a professor emerita, regents professor, and Henry Weihofen Professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law, received the prestigious Pierce Hickerson Award from the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association (NLADA).
The award, presented last month at the Annual Joint Conference in Oakland, honors law professionals who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement or preservation of Native American rights. The conference, hosted by NLADA, is a collaborative gathering of organizations that provide pro-bono attorneys in civil cases and criminal defense and includes the National Association of Indian Law Services, which nominated Valencia-Weber for the award, the American Bar Association, the Legal Services Corporation and other nonprofits.
“This was a special honor as past awardees of the Pierce-Hickerson have been career pro-bono attorneys, whose work I greatly admire for their groundbreaking work in civil and criminal law. Some of the best pro-bono attorneys are our UNM Law graduates,” Valencia-Weber said. “For a career law professor like me to be nominated by the National Association of Indian Law Services (NAILS) was unusual. I have been fortunate to know and work with these outstanding individuals as personal friends and professionals committed to making justice real in the lives of Native Americans.”
Valencia-Weber has a long history of work in Native American law. She was the founding director of the Indian Law Certificate Program at UNM, which was established in 1994. President Obama appointed her to the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation in 2010. She has also served on the Board of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services and provides training for tribal officials and attorneys. Valencia-Weber is also a judge for the Southwest Intertribal Court of Appeals administered by the American Indian Law Center in Albuquerque. Her Indian Law publications focus on tribal sovereignty-based issues, and she is editing her book on changes to Santa Clara Pueblo’s membership laws to treat women and men equally.
Valencia-Weber earned her Juris Doctorate at Harvard University, where she served as the Comments Editor for the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review and a C.Clyde Ferguson International Human Rights Fellow.
Early in her career, she clerked for two federal judges, including Judge Lee R. West of the Western District of Oklahoma and William J. Holloway, Jr., Chief Judge of the Tenth Circuit. Following her clerkships, she established the country’s first Indian Law Certificate program at the University of Tulsa School of Law in 1990 before joining UNM two years later.
The Pierce-Hickerson Award was created in 2003 and is presented every other year by NLADA, which is among the oldest and largest nonprofit associations devoted to excellence in delivering legal services to those who cannot afford counsel.
Previous award recipients include Rosalie Chavez, Manager of the Native American Program at New Mexico Legal Aid, and Peterson Zah, former president of the Navajo Nation, among others.