Between 1990 and 2000, 2,600 Native Americans graduated from American Bar Association-accredited law schools, according to the ABA. According to the U.S. Census, however, the number of Native American attorneys in the United States increased by just 200 during that time.
The discrepancy points to a disturbing trend in law school admissions, according to the National Native American Bar Association Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity: That some law school applicants falsely report that they are Native American.
The ABA's House of Delegates approved a resolution on Monday urging the Law School Admissions Council and ABA-approved law schools to require additional information from people who indicate on their registration for the Law School Admission Test and law school applications that they are Native American. Specifically, that information about their tribal citizenship, tribal affiliation or enrollment number. Applicants who don't belong to a tribe recognized by the government would provide a "heritage statement."
In a report accompanying the resolution, the National Native American Bar Association wrote that the false reporting of Native American status is a "large, systemic problem" that amounts to "academic ethnic fraud."
"While few people would indicate they were Asian-American or African-American on a law school application unless it is part of their identity, for some reason there is a wide level of comfort about self-identifying as Native American even though they are not in fact Native American," the association wrote. "This is particularly disconcerting given that being Native American is not just an ethnic identity, but is an actual citizenship in an Indian tribe or Nation which carries with it a formal tribal enrollment number, not unlike a social security number."
Mary Smith, president-elect of the association, told the House of Delegates that "box-checking" -- the practice of misidentifying oneself as a member of an ethnic minority group -- is a problem because a law school application is the first formal step to becoming a lawyer. "If someone is going to make a misrepresentation on that first paper, it becomes an issue of ethics and professional responsibility," she said.
A handful of law schools, including Harvard Law School, already ask applicants who identify as "American Indian or Alaska Native" to report the name of their principal tribe, according to the report.