Former Seneca Nation president will address graduates

Robert Odawi Porter

Robert Odawi Porter

The former president, attorney general and chief legal counsel of the Seneca Nation of Indians will be the keynote speaker as the University at Buffalo Law School conducts its 127th Commencement exercises.

Robert Odawi Porter, a longtime advocate for tribal sovereignty and a former professor at the law schools of the University of Kansas, the University of Iowa and Syracuse University, will speak at the May 21 ceremony. The choice was announced by interim Dean James A. Gardner.

Gardner and UB President Satish Tripathi will confer degrees on 188 J.D. candidates as well as 12 LL.M. candidates.

Porter was raised in the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Territory and was educated at Syracuse University and Harvard Law School. He was appointed by the Seneca Nation Council as the Nation’s first attorney general at age 28 and later went on to serve a second term as Seneca chief legal counsel. He served as the founding chairman of Seneca Holdings, and in 2010 was elected as the Seneca Nation’s 67th president with 77 percent of the vote. 

As a law professor, he wrote numerous academic articles on federal and tribal Indian law, including a book, Sovereignty, Colonialism, and the Indigenous Nations: A Reader.

In his role as an advocate, Porter has helped to resolve major conflicts against the federal and New York State governments to protect tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, including efforts to stop New York from taxing Seneca commerce, protection of Seneca gaming and land rights, and lobbying for the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act of 2014, which ended the practice of IRS auditing of Indians for benefits received from their tribal governments.   

Currently, he provides legal and lobbying services to Indian tribal governments, Indian-owned businesses and companies doing business in Indian country at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, at its office in Washington, D.C.

The Seneca Nation of Indians, with more than 8,000 enrolled members, is the fifth-largest employer in Western New York.  

Also at the Commencement ceremony, the Ken Joyce Excellence in Teaching Award will be presented posthumously to John R. Nuchereno, a longtime Buffalo criminal defense attorney and beloved adjunct instructor at the Law School. Nuchereno, who had battled leukemia, died Feb. 3 in Roswell Park Cancer Institute. He was 64 years old.

Nuchereno founded the Innocence and Justice Project, part of the Advocacy Institute at the Law School. He is survived by his wife and law partner, Catherine E. Nagel ’98.

Accepting an award at the Buffalo Law Review Dinner last year, Nuchereno recalled his return to his Law School classroom after undergoing a bone marrow transplant. “I walked down the aisle to a standing ovation,” he said. “It was at that point I knew my career as a lawyer was a success.”