Native American female lawyers have used words like isolated, frustrated, lonely, exhausted, and invisible to describe their experiences in law school and beyond. Their personal stories will come to life in a two-part seminar at the 2024 ABA Midyear Meeting called “Firekeepers: Elevating the Voice of Native American Women in the Profession,” sponsored by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.
The first half of the program will center on an overview of the “Excluded & Alone: Examining the Experiences of Native American Women in the Law and a Path Towards Equity” report, which was released in collaboration with the National Native American Bar Association in November 2023. The study focused on the unique experiences of 74 Native American female lawyers as they navigated the intersection of race and gender in the legal profession.
Study co-chairs Jin Y. Hwang, a member of the Commission on Women in the Profession and past president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and Linda Benally, past president of the National Native American Bar Association, will share details about how the study was conducted, including its framework and methodology.
“In studies conducted in the past, Native American women lawyers have been completely overlooked or relegated to footnotes, and that emerged in the study,” Benally said. “We will shed light on the real experiences of Native American women lawyers, and I’m hoping attendees walk away touched by the history of Native American women lawyers, and the complex and painful history of Native people. I hope the information and experiences shared will inspire attendees to find ways to actively include the voices of Native American women.”
The study included the perspectives of three different groups: Native American women who have practiced law for five years or fewer, those who have practiced between six and 15 years and those who have practiced 16 years or more. Respondents from all three groups reported consistent and extensive levels of bias and harassment in law school and in their careers.
The second half of the program will feature a panel of Native American women lawyers from a wide variety of practices and backgrounds discussing their professional journeys. It will be moderated by Makalika Naholowa’a, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation and president of the National Native American Bar Association.
“We really want people to feel compelled to take action based on what they hear, from the personal stories highlighted in the study and from the panelists themselves,” Hwang said, citing a Call to Action in the report that offers “very practical, concrete steps … to help make the legal profession more inclusive for Native American attorneys.”
“Firekeepers: Elevating the Voice of Native American Women in the Profession,” is at 3 p.m. Feb. 3 in the Old Louisville Room at the Omni Louisville Hotel.