In August 2023, Mary L. Smith became the first Cherokee woman to lead the American Bar Association (ABA). With a large crowd of Native American attorneys and ABA members by her side, Mary was inducted as the president of the ABA at the association’s Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado. Mary walked in draped with an embroidered wool blanket from Native-owned company Eighth Generation, a Cherokee design titled Cherokee Treasure by Bryan Waytula, a contemporary piece honoring the long basket weaving tradition of her people, interconnecting the creativity, skills, and knowledge of her ancestors as she stepped into an important role for the legal profession and a momentous occasion for Native American attorneys and legal professionals.
The 2023 ABA Annual Meeting was a historic one, and Mary’s installation was one of many reasons. In addition to the start of Mary’s presidency, a Tribal judge and Native American legal giant were honored for their long-time accomplishments in protecting the rights of Native American people and victims of crime. John E. Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund and original co-founder of the National Native American Bar Association, was awarded the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice Thurgood Marshall Award. Judge Melissa L. Pope, chief judge of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Tribal Court, received the ABA Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence Judith S. Kaye Award for Judicial Excellence.