A Healthy Sense of Adventure
Christine Mellick was studying classical languages, with a focus on Latin at the University of Puget Sound when she decided she would become a lawyer. She was in a Native American history class as an undergraduate and they were reading The Marshall Trilogy, a set of three Supreme Court decisions in the early 19th century affirming the legal and political standing of Indian nations.
“I thought to myself, if I’m going to make a difference in Indian Country, law is the way to do it,” she said.
Mellick, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said she was not sure what to do next. With a bachelor’s degree in Latin, she said law school, and the Native American law emphasis made the University of Idaho College of Law an attractive choice. In addition, it was close to home.
Going to law school was also a pragmatic decision, Mellick said, because of UI’s low cost of attendance and UI’s high employment rate.
At UI, Mellick has been active in the Native American Law Association, and spent her spring break helping at a free tax clinic on the Coeur d’ Alene reservation.
One of the appeals of UI’s Native American law program is its proximity to both the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce tribes, which allows for an active relationship with tribal attorneys. Students in the program also work with UI’s Native American Student Center in Moscow.
Mellick will graduate this spring with her Juris Doctor. She said the college’s faculty and staff were dedicated to her success.
“They are there when everything is going wrong and they are there to celebrate your accomplishments,” she said.
But it is not just the College of Law that helped her build confidence. Mellick also teaches swimming classes in UI’s Department of Movement Sciences in the College of Education.
“I teach undergrads on a swim deck, dancing around in a blue swimsuit, and after that nothing phases me. Going in front of judges, at least, I’m fully clothed,” she said.
She has also taken advantage of being able to take classes across disciplines, including a creative writing course. She likes interacting with students from other colleges. One of her favorite courses was “Law, Science and the Environment.”
“I learned how to talk to both scientists and lawyers. I think it was really useful," she said.
She spent the summer between her second and third year as a law clerk with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) in Anchorage, Alaska.
“It (Anchorage, Alaska) wasn’t my first choice, but how often do you get to pick up your bags and go to Alaska?” she said.
She packed up two duffel bags and went to Alaska for 11 weeks. She did not have housing lined up and ended staying in an Airbnb with another lawyer for two weeks. While there, she worked on voting rights, the Indian tribal welfare act, natural resource issues and government-to-government issues.
“I think my summer with NARF made me realize this was something I wanted to do because I really loved the work, the writing and the office plus the variety of it,” she said. She sees herself ideally working on policy on a national level.
After graduation, she will be going to Juneau, Alaska, to clerk for the Superior Court under Judge Philip Pallenberg.
“Law school gave me a healthy sense of adventure, and has prepared and forced me to go on my own adventures,” she said.
Article by Cara Hawkins-Jedlicka, College of Law