Submitted by Stephanie Hudson, Executive Director of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Inc.
Oklahoma Indian Legal Services (OILS) is a nonprofit legal services organization providing free legal representation to low-income citizens facing issues with federal Indian law. OILS was formed in 1981 and is part of the same network as Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO). The organization employs six attorneys who provide legal services to tribal members across the state.
According to OILS Executive Director Stephanie Hudson, issues that tribal members face can be different and more complicated. Those issues include the Indian Child Welfare Act, probate on restricted Indian lands, wills for trust and restricted Indian lands, tribal housing problems, tribal sovereignty and individual rights. Individual tribal members can find it difficult to navigate the different federal laws, state laws, administrative codes and tribal laws that can be encountered when dealing with land or child welfare issues.
Last year, OILS saw an increase in the number of grandparents seeking a guardianship or an adoption for their grandchildren in state district courts.
“There is a large opioid crisis going on in Oklahoma,” Hudson said. “What a lot of citizens don’t realize is if the Indian Child Welfare Act is not followed, the guardianship could be vacated later.”
OILS also provides legal education classes for attorneys who do not regularly practice federal Indian law, because many have questions about the Indian Child Welfare Act.
“OILS is required to follow federal poverty guidelines when determining who can receive assistance,” Hudson said. “Our primary funder is the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C. We must follow their guidelines, which allows us to provide services to applicants whose family income does not exceed 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
“It does cut out some people who are employed from being able to receive our services,” she said. “There is a real issue in the United States with people who are employed and still can’t afford an attorney. There are many people representing themselves in state district and tribal courts.”
However, Hudson said there are options for those who don’t meet the guidelines, including organizations like the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Indian Law Section of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
If you have a legal issue that does not involve federal Indian law, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma accepts applications by telephone. Its phone number is 1-888-534-5243. Tribal members in Oklahoma with a federal Indian law issue can apply for services with Oklahoma Indian Legal Services. Applications are completed by telephone. Call 1-800-658-1497 for more information.