Jenny Small, Fulbright Grantee, Chile
An airline pilot’s daughter who travelled frequently both domestically and abroad as a child, Jenny Small (’13) has long been passionate about all things international, especially the intersection of different cultures and advocacy for indigenous peoples. Now, she is pursuing those interests full time, conducting research on the application of international indigenous law in Chile as a Fulbright grantee.
Through her early travels, Small quickly found that she loved learning through museums and meeting new people. This realization led her to Claremont McKenna College’s renowned International Relations program. She also studied economics, as a more “practical” additional major.
Because of her family’s heritage—and “the complexities of the legal status of being or not being ‘American Indian’”—Small had a strong interest in pursuing a career in indigenous law. She considered law schools that specialized in Indian Law, but says she was “fortunate enough to have been able to speak with some attorneys and scholars, all of whom suggested that I get a strong and fully rounded legal education.”
“This idea of an all-around stellar legal education took me to Boston University, where I felt there would be opportunities to learn the fundamentals of the law, study abroad, do clinics, and participate in the wealth of other choices BU Law offers.”
Small thrived at BU Law, in an environment that she says is “competitive, but fosters relationships of mutual support. I found this to be really true in starting the BU chapter of the Native American Law Student Association.”
She also found professors to be supportive and accomodating of different projects and her international ambitions. During her 1L summer, she was delighted to be offered an internship doing mergers and acquisitions with M & M Bomchil in Buenos Aires, but since it was unpaid, she was unsure if she would be able to manage it financially. However, after having taken classes with Professor Walter Miller and Professor Ward Farnsworth, she had begun serving as a research assistant for each of them. “They were so gracious in allowing me to conduct research in Argentina,” she says. “It meant that not only would I get to work for them, but I could do the international internship as well.”
Other highlights of her BU Law experience included a spring break pro bono trip to Oklahoma to work with Oklahoma Indian Legal Services (OILS). She and fellow student Josh Fairchild (’13) pitched the idea of the trip to the Career Development and Public Interest Office (CDO), who oversees the program, with the hope that it might plant the seed for future discussion. “We were amazed because they ran with it, and we were able to send four students and a supervisor to work with OILS.”
Small describes the experience as one of the best in law school. “I learned so much within that one week,” she recalls. “We were working on complex wills issues as they were impacted by federal law. I’m so grateful to BU Law for hosting the trip, and continuing it and the relationship with OILS over the past couple of years.”
As her time at BU Law drew to a close, Small was becoming more and more interested in a particular instance of the application of indigenous rights. “I was obsessed with some news stories about Mapuche rights in Chile, and wanted to study the issue more.” The more she read on the issue, the more she realized that she could be a force for change.
Because it is one of the first countries to begin applying international norms and recognizing indigenous rights in its domestic courts, Small believed that “Chile could be a laboratory for experimentation on indigenous rights.”
The Mapuche are a group indigenous to south-central Chile that have recently undertaken a revival and reorganization of their communities, with the goals of gaining jurisdictional autonomy, a return of ancestral lands, and a recognition of cultural identity. “Different Mapuche communities are making their voices heard, usually peacefully, but there has been some violence in recent years,” says Small. “It’s incredibly controversial, but also very ripe for implementation of these international principles.”
Small felt so compelled that she decided to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship. “The idea of my project is to find a way to better provide for free and informed prior consent and consultation, as required by the international instruments, or to find some kind of other protection of indigenous rights.”
Though the application process was quite laborious, she says, “Michelle Grossfield in the CDO gave me the little push that I needed. She also put me in touch with BU Law alumni who were instrumental in helping me prepare a solid application.”
In the meantime, Small received a job offer regulating national banks as an attorney at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in Denver, CO, for the following September, which she accepted. When the Fulbright came through, she took a risk in asking the OCC to allow her take time off to complete her research in Chile. But everything fell into place: she considers herself extremely fortunate, for one, to have been awarded a Fulbright grant and, even more so, that the OCC allowed her to accept it. Most of all, though, she feels lucky to have the opportunity to conduct research on a topic about which she is so passionate.
“My project is somewhat idealistic, but I am able to garner a lot of support for it because people perceive it as something supported by both governments and a risk that otherwise nobody would ever take. I might fail, but that is also part of the beauty of the Fulbright: being able to try something that, in other scenarios, would just not come to fruition.”
Part of the goal of the Fulbright is for grant recipients to continue their work even after the conclusion of the scholarship. Small certainly intends to do this. Part of her project is the creation of a website with resources on indigenous law, which she will maintain and share on her return to the U.S.
She will also return to her job with OCC, which she believes will benefit from her time in Chile. “Since some of these national banks are owned by native nations or indigenous peoples, I strongly believe this experience with the Fulbright will continue to be a basis for community outreach whether with the OCC or in other contexts.”
“Personally,” says Small, “I think everybody should study indigenous law, even if they want to do corporate law, environmental law, or whatever else. I think federal Indian law provides you a really strong way to think critically about the law, cases, and justice.”
Reported by Sara Womble
April 23, 2014