VOLUME 31, NUMBER 17 THURSDAY, January 27, 2000

Collection comes to UB
Law library cataloguing Berman Indian law documents

send this article to a friend

News Services Editor

The Charles B. Sears Law Library has received an important collection of books, manuscripts, documents, treaties and other material related to the defense of indigenous rights-and in particular, of American Indian nations-from the late Howard R. Berman.

A distinguished scholar of international human-rights law, Berman, a 1971 graduate of the UB Law School, devoted his legal career to defending the interests of aboriginal peoples.

He taught law at UB and Harvard University before joining the faculty of California Western Law of School, where he taught from 1987 until his death in 1997 at the age of 52.

Karen Spencer, UB reference librarian who studied Indian law at UB under Berman, says the library has long had some materials related to Indian and human-rights issues, but calls Berman's materials "a significant collectionŠ(one that) reflects Howard's deep and abiding concern for all aboriginal peoples."

Some of the material in the Berman collection was of interest to other universities, but Spencer says the collection came to UB because it was the only university willing to maintain the collection intact.

"Howard requested this because he wanted his life's work to be accessible to the people to whom he had dedicated his entire career."

She describes Berman's life as one "defined by social activism infused with unusual compassion and generosity of spirit." Berman, she adds, worked tirelessly to achieve international recognition for the rights of indigenous peoples to sovereignty, religious freedom and self-determination.

The collection reflects these concerns. Its historical and legal-resource materials were used by Berman to prepare cases in support of other fundamental rights as well, involving territoriality, international labor law, corporate investment in aboriginal lands, border-crossing rights and other issues.

Representatives of several Indian nations have told Spencer they are anxious to see the collection. One reason they want to see it, she says, is because Berman's carefully observed and referenced writings will be of great use to anyone presenting evidence on behalf of native peoples before national and international courts of law.

It is Berman's abiding interest in American Indian law that defines the collection, which contains original and rare books and documents not previously held at UB.

Among them are legal records documenting the last 300 years of the Haudenosaunee (the six-nation Iroquois Confederacy), with whom Berman had a long working relationship.

"One rare work of note," Spencer says, "is an original copy of the Jay Treaty published in 1795 that ensured Indians unimpeded crossing between the United States and Canada. The formal title of the document is Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America and it contains a notable appendix of contemporary documents, letters and papers."

Another significant book is a revised and enlarged 1842 edition of "Deh-he-wa-mis: or, A narrative of the life of Mary Jemison." A white woman from Western New York, Jemison was taken captive and then adopted by the Seneca. She chose to remain among them for the rest of her life and, in doing so, became part of regional and Seneca lore.

An original edition of Lewis H. Morgan's book "League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois" (1851) is interesting, Spencer says, because it contains a map and explanatory chart of corresponding English and Indian names.

Berman's was a career of prodigious accomplishment. Besides teaching human-rights law, he published and lectured widely, maintained a private law practice in Indian law and, from 1978 to 1981, served as attorney for the Indian Law Resource Center in Washington, D.C.

He chaired the Interest Group on Indigenous Rights for the American Society of International Law and provided legal counsel and consultation to native peoples of Tibet, Taiwan, Mexico, Africa, Canada, Eastern Europe and Central America.

He represented the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs-a United Nations subcommission-before the UN Commission on Human Rights and other international bodies.

The Berman Collection is being catalogued and inventoried, and a list of the catalogued items can be found at . To use the materials in the collection, contact a reference librarian in the law library at 645-2048.

Front Page | Top Stories | Briefly | Q&A | Transitions | Electronic Highways
Sports | Obituaries | Exhibits, Notices, Jobs | Events | Current Issue | Comments? | Archives
Search | UB Home | UB News Services | UB Today