Celebrating International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and how Legal Aid Protects the Rights of the Indigenous in Utah

Sunday was the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Observed each year to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous populations, “AND JUSTICE FOR ALL” would like to celebrate Utah’s indigenous history, while also recognizing how civil legal aid plays a role in protecting the rights of the indigenous in this state.

Utah’s indigenous history has contributed much to the state we have today; everything from the name of our state to the most popular sports team within our borders is derived from the Ute people, “Ute” meaning “land of the sun.” The Utes are joined by the Paiute, Goshute, Shoshone and Navajo peoples living in Utah. In 2014, “AND JUSTICE FOR ALL” partner agency Utah Legal Services’ (ULS) Native American Division helped 31 American Indian individuals and their 58 dependents access justice to meet their most basic needs, overcome discrimination, and obtain safety from abuse.

Since 1976, Utah Legal Services has collaborated with Utah’s Tribal Nations to provide effective services to tribal members and non-tribal members in cases in tribal court. The ULS Native American Division assists income-eligible members of the five Native American Tribes of Utah.  ULS represents and assists individuals in two tribal courts, as well as urban Indians and individuals who have cases open in the Utah state courts.  They represent juvenile delinquents, and provide free legal services in civil domestic matters such as guardianship cases, divorce cases, child custody proceedings, adoption matters, child support matters, name changes, obtaining delayed birth records, wills and probate, representation of minor children as appointed guardians ad litem, land disputes, conservatorships, public benefits, expungements, and protective orders.

The law can be convoluted and bureaucratic, and often, a lawyer is necessary to see the forest for the trees. Ailen* was born on the Navajo Indian Reservation and did not have an official birth record. As a young girl, the woman was sent to a boarding school where she was given a different name than the name given by her parents.  She later married and her name again changed, so her records from her tribe did not match her records from school, nor her most recent records which included her married name.

When her husband passed away, amid grief and worry, Ailen tried to put her life back together. She went in to renew her driver’s license so she could get a job, but was refused because she didn’t have a birth certificate. She knew she was entitled to her husband’s death benefits, but was denied because she didn’t have the documents that indicated her true legal name. Unable to support or feed herself, Ailen went to Utah Legal Services for help.

ULS spoke with the woman’s family members, prepared Affidavits, numerous forms, and frequent correspondence with the Office of Vital Records regarding all of their technical requirements. After much red tape, ULS obtained a delayed birth record and an order from the court for all of her records to be consistent and amended to her maiden name, and then to her full married name for records dated thereafter.  This case required patience and persistence in what seemed like an up-hill battle, but ULS was able to complete the task, and Ailen, armed with a birth certificate, her husband’s benefits and a renewed driver’s license, can now look toward the future with hope rather than fear.


*Name has been changed to protect client privacy.

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