By Trevor Stewart
Ask most 5-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up and an array of answers will follow, ranging from astronaut or firefighter to professional athlete. Darcie Houck ’94 M.S. ’97 J.D. ’97 knew she was going to be a lawyer.
“My grandfather told me I had to grow up to be a lawyer so I could advocate for Native American rights and issues,” Houck said.
Houck is of Native American descent, Mohawk and Ottawa on her mother’s side, along with French and English, wanted to make a difference.
Houck worked as a law student with California Indian Legal Services and interned with the Department of Justice prior to graduating from law school at the University of California, Davis. She previously worked 12 years for one of the largest boutique Native American Law firms, Fredericks Peebles & Morgan.
Houck said there has been progress made in the relationship between tribal law and United States government law, but there is still much work to be done.
“Sometimes there are misconceptions on what a worldview means and how do we take into account tribal practices or have discourse where we can understand each other’s worldviews,” said Houck. “We need to continue increasing collaboration and maintain an open dialogue.”
Now, Houck serves as an administrative law judge with the California Utilities Commission, working on cases pertaining to nuclear power or providing affordable energy to disadvantaged communities, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley. She is also finishing her J.S.D. (Doctor of Juridical Science) dissertation in international water law, exploring the human right to water in the context of indigenous peoples and indigenous communities’ cultural values to sustainable ecological development.
Paying it forward
Although Houck knew what she wanted to do since she was five years old, her studies at UC Davis reinforced the desire to help others in her career aspirations.
“The Native American studies program was amazing and gave me opportunities to work with different communities in California,” she said. “I got an education that I wouldn’t have been able to receive anywhere else.”
Houck said law professors Arturo Gandara and Kevin Johnson (the latter of which is now dean) were integral to her success. Both were crucial in reviving the Native American law course, which had not been offered for a number of years. She credits them, along with many others, for opening doors and creating opportunities for students.
Houck went on to co-teach with Professor Beth Rose Middleton a graduate law school class on indigenous ecological law and policy at UC Davis, as well as serve as an instructor for a Native American law course.
“Students graduate from UC Davis with the knowledge to change lives and this is a perfect time for them to take that knowledge, evaluate what is important to them and help make the change they want to see in the world,” she said.
Houck has also stayed connected to the university through her service on the Cal Aggie Alumni Association (CAAA) board and as a CAAA Life Member.
She explained, “There are many students who could benefit from this amazing education. And as an engaged member of CAAA, I came to know their stories intimately and now understand how important it is to give back by being a volunteer and donor.”