Law School Students of the Year: Joaquin Gallegos, University of Denver

Joaquin R. Gallegos is from the Jicarilla Apache Nation and Pueblo of Santa Ana, and grew up across New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, and Washington, D.C.  Prior to attending the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, he was involved in Indian health research and policy and worked extensively with Indian Tribes from the Alaskan tundra to the Southwest deserts.
Gallegos later served as a policy fellow for U.S. Senator Dorgan, helping to effectuate Indian Health Care Improvement Act provisions and supporting the Obama administration to achieve Indian policy priorities including enacting Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) regulations. Joaquin entered Denver Law to enhance his leadership and skills to effect change in his community.

During his first year, Gallegos participated in the DU Tribal Wills Project, drafting wills and other estate planning documents for Indians across reservations in seven states. The Project, recognized by the Colorado Supreme Court and national media, addresses the American Indian Probate Reform Act and unique facets of Indian estates.  With his personal connections, Gallegos has helped the Project expand to new locations because he wants to enrich our community’s ability to observe the effects of congressional action on Indian reservations firsthand and effectively engage the First Americans.

Gallegos also externed for Judge Furman at the Colorado Court of Appeals. In that role, he supported the first-ever state appellate court Indian Child Welfare Act division, helping it determine ICWA compliance in complex dependency and neglect cases. Later, Gallegos served as a legal fellow for U.S. Senator Udall at the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He notably advised the Committee on Sturgeon v. Frost (II), a case under U.S. Supreme Court review, and determined the potential consequences on Alaska Native subsistence rights and land ownership and management in Alaska. He also assisted in evaluating then-nominee Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court—specific to federal Indian law jurisprudence—and drafted Senate Questions for the Record for Trump administration nominees. 

Gallegos continued his work within the judiciary as an extern for Judge Eid at the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Determined to strengthen his legal fitness to help create appropriate answers to the pressing legal questions of our time, Joaquin eagerly immerses himself into every possible experience.

When he graduates, Gallegos hopes to gain skills as a practicing attorney at the forefront of strategic litigation and policy-making before returning to the U.S. Senate. Ultimately, he seeks to serve as an effective legal scholar and leader for the United States, Indian Tribes, and beyond.