Some nervousness, honor and humility is what UO law student Sigvanna Topkok felt once she was elected the new president of the National Native American Law Students Association on April 7.
Topkok’s excited to give back to an organization that’s already given her so much.
While studying linguistics and Native American studies at Dartmouth College, Topkok was funded by the college to travel to Nome, Alaska, to work for Kawerak Inc., an organization dedicated to bettering the lives of Alaska Natives.
From her father’s side, Topkok is Inupiat, a subgroup of Inuit people in northern Alaska. She had familial ties to Nome, and while she lived there she was able to discover her Native American roots for the first time. When she transferred to the UO School of Law to study environmental law, she felt some disconnect with her fellow students because no one else in the program was of Native American heritage.
“It was particularly difficult when I started law school at the UO because I didn’t know of any native law students, and I missed having the strong support system of being surrounded by indigenous peoples,” Topkok said. “Being a native law student is a unique experience, and it can be tough to find the words to explain it to my non-native peers, or even other native students in the other programs.”
She found a support system through the Native American law association. The organization supports law students who are interested in studying federal Indian law and tribal law, and they try to increase the Native American law student population.
Topkok served as the co-director of the UO chapter. She and two other people were nominated to be the national president, and she decided to accept her nomination so she could stay involved with the organization once she moves to Alaska next year.
But she didn’t realize she could actually get the position until she did.
“My initial feelings have been a little all over the place — I honestly didn’t expect to be elected,” Topkok said. “I was certainly surprised, and full of gratitude for all the support I received. I’m also a tad nervous as I take on my new responsibilities. But I am even more excited to work with my amazing NNALSA board.”
Her term as president officially started April 8, and she’s been keeping busy with transitioning to the new role. Once she transitions though, she’s excited about shaping the future of the association.
“I am absolutely looking forward to what we will accomplish this next year as we build on the past board’s successes.”
—By Craig Garcia, University Communications intern