Syracuse University’s Western New York Alumni Association on Sunday honored Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter with a distinguished alumnus award for a local graduate.
Porter graduated from Syracuse with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and economics and then received his juris doctor from Harvard Law School in 1989.
“Receiving an honor from your university is particularly special because it demonstrates that one has given back to an educational institution that gave you so much,” Porter said. “It was at Syracuse that I realized that I wanted to be a lawyer for our nation. Our president at the time, Calvin Lay, made a public statement that he believed that more Seneca people should go to law school because the nation had only white lawyers in our history representing us. I took those words to heart and set off at Syracuse on the career path of becoming a Seneca Nation lawyer.”
When elected president, he took a leave from his position as professor of law, Dean’s Research Scholar of Indigenous Nations Law and director, Center for Indigenous Law, Governance & Citizenship, College of Law at Syracuse University. His two-year term as president ends in November.
Porter, who also taught at the Universities of Kansas and Iowa law schools, was the nation’s first legal counsel, setting up the Department of Justice in 1991. In this position, he developed an in-house legal department to administer the nation’s legal affairs and eventually was authorized to oversee its law enforcement agencies.