chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
October 27, 2023

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Native American women ‘firsts’ on ABA Presidential Speaker Series

CHICAGO, Oct. 27, 2023 – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and a panel of other Native American women “firsts” are featured in the ABA Presidential Speaker Series Thursday, Nov. 2.

The discussion will be followed by the release of a study from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession in collaboration with the National Native American Bar Association titled “Excluded and Alone: Examining the Experiences of Native American Women in the Law and a Path Towards Equity.” The report will be discussed by Firekeepers Circle Co-chairs Jin Hwang, commissioner of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, and Linda Benally, past president of the National Native American Bar Association.

The program, which is part of the ABA’s recognition of Native American Heritage Month, will be available at 3 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Nov. 2. No advance registration is required, the program can be viewed here. The event is co-sponsored by the National Native American Bar Association.

In addition to Haaland, the panel will include:

  • Abby Abinanti (Yurok), Chief Judge, Yurok Tribe and the first Native American Woman to pass the California Bar Exam
  • Kimberly TeeHee (Cherokee), the first Delegate-designate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Cherokee Nation and former senior policy adviser for Native American affairs in the White House
  • Stacy Leeds (Cherokee), Willard H. Pedrick Dean and Regents Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and first Native American woman to serve as a law school dean
  • Valerie Nurr’araluk Davidson (Yup’ik), President/CEO of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and former lieutenant governor of Alaska and the first female Alaska Native to serve in that role.

Haaland made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican. Throughout her career in public service, Secretary Haaland has broken barriers and opened the doors of opportunity for future generations. 

As a single mother, Secretary Haaland volunteered at her child’s preschool to afford early childhood education. Like many parents, she had to rely on food stamps at times as a single parent, lived paycheck-to-paycheck and struggled to put herself through college. At age 28, Haaland enrolled at the University of New Mexico where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and later earned her J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law. Secretary Haaland and her child, who also graduated from the University of New Mexico, are still paying off student loans.

Haaland ran her own small business producing and canning Pueblo Salsa, served as a tribal administrator at San Felipe Pueblo, and became the first woman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, overseeing business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. After running for New Mexico lieutenant governor in 2014, Haaland became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a state party. She is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress, where she focused on environmental justice, climate change, missing and murdered Indigenous women and family-friendly policies. 

Abinanti holds a J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law and was a State Judicial Officer (Commissioner) for the San Francisco Superior Court for more than 17 years, assigned to the Unified Family Court. She retired from the Superior Court in September 2011 and on July 31, 2014 was reappointed as a part-time Commissioner for San Francisco assigned to Dependency, and Duty Judge for that Court where she served until 2015. She has been a Yurok Tribal Court Judge since 1997 and was appointed Chief Tribal Court Judge in 2007, a position she held in conjunction with her Superior Court assignment until 2015.

Teehee is director of government relations for Cherokee Nation and senior vice president of government relations for Cherokee Nation businesses. In 2019, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. named Teehee as the tribe’s first delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. She previously served President Barack Obama as the first-ever senior policy adviser for Native American Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council for three years. Teehee also served as senior adviser to the U.S. House of Representatives Native American Caucus co-chair, Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), for nearly 12 years.

Leeds is a scholar of Indigenous law and policy and an experienced leader in law, higher education, economic development and conflict resolution. She holds law degrees from the University of Wisconsin (LL.M.) and University of Tulsa (J.D.), and a business degree from the University of Tennessee (MBA). She was the first Indigenous woman to serve as a law school dean at University of Arkansas School of Law (2011-2018). She is an elected member of the American Law Institute and a recipient of the American Bar Association’s Spirit of Excellence Award.

Nurr’araluk Davidson is an enrolled Tribal citizen of the Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council in Bethel, and previously served as lieutenant governor of Alaska and Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services. She earned a J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law and has been committed to her Native peoples and Alaska to advance a collective and holistic approach to self-governance and well-being for all Alaskans.

The panel will be moderated by Makalika Naholowa’a, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and President of the National Native American Bar Association (and first Native Hawaiian in this role). Naholowa’a holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School.

The ABA Presidential Speaker Series, an initiative of ABA President Mary Smith, is a collection of diverse virtual conversations with globally recognized figures, spotlighting trailblazers and thinkers shaping our collective future. Under the theme “Lifting Our Voices, Charting the Future,” these fireside chats will promote dialogue, civility and exposure to diverse viewpoints, innovative ideas and career insights.

Previous episodes featured Ivo H. Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO and current chief executive officer of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (view here) and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta (view here).

Future speakers in the series will include:

  • A discussion about artificial intelligence featuring a panel of special advisers to the ABA Task Force on the Law and Artificial Intelligence, Nov. 9
  • Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese and Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Nov. 15
  • Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Charles Johnson and former federal judge J. Michael Luttig, Dec. 7

Additional programs will be announced. To introduce the series, this and other initial installments will be free to ABA members and the public. More information on the Presidential Speaker Series can be found at

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.