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UND law student to join Standing Rock prosecutors in first-ever partnership

GRAND FORKS -- For the first time, one of the University of North Dakota law school students fanning out to summer externships with judges, courts and other parts of the legal system will join a tribal court, at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Rachel Egstad, who has finished her first year at the law school, will assist in the prosecution of crimes at the reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

"This is a big step," said Tim Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, who has helped to lead a U.S. Justice Department effort to bolster criminal justice systems on the nation's reservations.

"For many years, the federal court system has had a summer externship program where students spend 150 hours in our office, with the federal district courts and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals," Purdon said. But "never before" has a student been placed in a tribal court.

Egstad will "observe tribal prosecution firsthand at Standing Rock by working with both assistant U.S. attorneys from our Bismarck office and with the tribal prosecutors in Fort Yates," he said.

An externship, as opposed to an internship, usually involves a student gaining practical experience toward the start of his or her learning. Internships generally provide a transitional work experience between a student's education and the start of a career.

In effect, prosecutors at Standing Rock "will get a law clerk for the summer," Purdon said, "and anytime you can get more resources for public safety on the reservation, it's a big thing."

Violent crime rates on reservations exceed those in the rest of the country, he said, and there has been a significant push in recent years, including extension of the federal Violence Against Women Act to reservations. An Indian female "has a one-in-three chance" of being sexually abused in her lifetime, Purdon said.

Student opportunities

Kathryn Rand, dean of the UND School of Law, said the new externship will expand the experiences and learning opportunities of students and provide a service to the state.

"We're very excited about it," she said, noting that the UND school has "one of the richest Indian law curricula in the nation."

She credited Purdon with being "a driving force in getting this done," and the school "would like to continue to expand these opportunities" to other reservations and to rural parts of the state.

Egstad, 23, of Grand Forks, said she knew the assignment at Standing Rock "was a perfect match for me" because of her interest in Indian Country. Her father is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, and she majored in Indian studies for her undergraduate degree at UND.

"I want to help" improve the tribal court system, she said. "I want to make things better. I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to gain insight and experience not only within the federal court system, but also in the tribal court system."

The unpaid externs work 150 hours during the summer and gain academic credit at UND School of Law for their service.

Bradley Parrish, assistant dean for student life, said the law school also will place more than a dozen students each in the fall and spring semesters in internships with several state agencies, including state's attorney's offices in Grand Forks, Cass and Walsh counties, the judge advocate general's office at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, the Fargo office of Legal Services of North Dakota, the Indigent Defense Counsel's Office in Grand Forks and the Northeast Central Judicial District chambers in Grand Forks.