Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 27, 2001 - Issue 28



Appleseed Foundation

In 1993, members of a law school class decided to do something very different for their reunion.

As seasoned attorneys, they recognized a serious breach in access to justice for all - and wanted to do something about it, beyond what had been done before.

This idealism and ambition led launched an organization -- The Appleseed Foundation -- that would seed a new model of public interest advocacy across the country.

The Appleseed Foundation's mission is to effect and enable constructive systemic change leading to a more just, equitable, and sustainable society.

To carry out this purpose, Appleseed is building a national network of locally-based law centers, known as Appleseed Centers.

Rather than provide individual level legal services, these centers address systemic problems: the causes, rather than the symptoms of our shared problems.

We, at
Canku Ota, are proud to present the Montana Appleseed Foundation to you, our readers. The Executive Director of this center is Roberta Cross Guns, JD. Not only is Roberta a practicing attorney, she also mothers six children.

Two of the projects that are being undertaken by the Montana Appleseed Foundation are:

Equal Schools Project
Montana's largest minority population consists of its first citizens: American Indians. There are seven Indian reservations representing eleven distinct tribal groups within Montana's boundaries. Yet Montana's Indian children have the highest school drop-out rate, almost four times that of non-Indian children.
Montana's constitution guarantees equal educational opportunity to all of its children. With such a high drop-out rate, the state has clearly neglected its obligation to its Indian children. To honor the constitutional promise of equal educational opportunity the state must begin by providing more funding to Indian students and programs that support and encourage their educational opportunities.

Additionally, Montana's constitution includes a unique clause committing the state to the preservation of the cultural integrity of its American Indian citizens through the state's educational goals and programs. To date the state has not adhered to this constitutional mandate.

Montana Appleseed Center is working on a three part project using litigation, legislation and public education to compel the state of Montana to accept its consitutional obligation to provide equal educational opportunities to our American Indian children and to protect cultural integrity of its Indian citizens.

Just Defense Project
Montana's first citizens, American Indians, are the most likely to be incarcerated and will serve longer terms of incaceration than any other ethnic, social or political population in Montana. Few, if any public defenders in Montana have any knowledge about life on the reservation, nor are they aware of any particular cultural differences that may change the way in which they represent Indian defendants.
Montana Appleseed's Just Defense Project is working through legislation and education to promote public awareness of the particular problems Indian defendants face. Additionally, we are working to add some ethical standards to the state bar's Code of Ethics that cause attorneys working in the field of public defense to educate themselves more fully about the needs of their Indian clients.

This project is patterned after and works with the help of the Texas Appleseed Center and its Fair Defense Project.

For more information on the Montana Appleseed Foundation contact:
Roberta Cross Guns, JD
Executive Director
Montana Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
401 Last Chance Gulch
Helena, MT 59601
(406)449-0892 phone
(406)443-7294 fax

Appleseed Foundation


Montana Appleseed




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