This month’s episode of the Talking Stick, Juvenile Justice, features Kelbie Kennedy, Policy Counsel, National Congress of American Indians and Addie Rolnick, Professor of Law, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law. This is the first part of a series of episodes looking at juvenile justice in Indian Country.
The National Native American Bar Association (NNABA) and NNABA Foundation recently released the results of the first-of-its-kind research study on Native American attorneys. This research is the only comprehensive research regarding Native American attorneys across all practice settings where each and every of the over 500 survey respondents identified as Native American.
One of the powerful findings of this study is that Native Americans often feel invisible and share an overarching perspective that their experiences are not valid or real. In addition to documenting the failure of traditional diversity and inclusion efforts to reach Native American attorneys, the study sheds light on unique challenges facing American Indians. Native Americans are clearly behind even other underrepresented groups in terms of inclusion, retention, and representation.
“This comprehensive research is not only the first – but the only – research that examines the experiences of Native American attorneys across all practice settings. It presents a stark portrait of an entire group of attorneys systematically excluded from the legal profession,” said Mary Smith, NNABA President. “It is clear that traditional diversity and inclusion programs are simply not working for Native American attorneys. NNABA hopes that this research will be used to build a more robust pipeline of Native American attorneys and to work toward the full inclusion of Native Americans in the legal profession.”
Highlights of the research include:
The survey captured information from 527 Native American attorneys, approximately 20% of the 2,640 Native American attorneys in the United States.
The most satisfied attorneys were working in the tribal sector, and the least satisfied attorneys were working for the federal/state government or law firms; however, tribal politics/cliques, overwhelming workloads, and not being able to make an impactful difference were cited as primary sources of dissatisfaction even in the context of being generally satisfied.
Over 40% of the attorneys overall in the study reported experiencing demeaning comments or other types of harassment based on their race, ethnicity, and/or tribal affiliation; and 33.63% reported experiencing one or more forms of discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, and/or tribal affiliation.
Women were more likely than men to report demeaning comments and/or harassment based on gender (38% to 3%); discrimination based on gender (35% to 4%); denial of advancement or promotional opportunities due to gender (21% to 3%); and denial of appropriate compensation due to gender (29% to 1%).
Over 76% of the attorneys in this study reported that more awareness and understanding of issues faced by Native Americans would have a positive impact on their careers. In comparison, only 60% of the attorneys felt that more effective implementation of diversity and inclusion policies in their workplace would have a positive impact on their careers. This is not surprising given the ways diversity and inclusion initiatives have largely ignored the issues and concerns of Native American attorneys.
Founded in 1973, NNABA serves as the national association for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian attorneys, judges, law professors and law students. NNABA strives for justice and effective legal representation for all American indigenous peoples; fosters the development of Native American lawyers and judges; and addresses social, cultural and legal issues affecting American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.