Living Her Dream: Eldena Bear Don’t Walk Discusses Her Law Career
Eldena Bear Don’t Walk is living out her childhood dream. The youngster who imagined one day becoming a lawyer has done exactly that — and more. She has been an appellate judge for eight years, serving almost every tribe in Montana. At the St. Ignatius-based Bear Don’t Walk Law Office, she works as an attorney, consultant and independent legal researcher. And she was the first woman to serve as chief justice of the Crow Tribe, a seat she held from 2007 to 2011.
It’s an impressive resume for someone just 40 years old. For Bear Don’t Walk, it all has a feeling of inevitability, because she is doing exactly what she has always wanted to do.
“I love law,” she said. “I always have. I remember when I was in fifth grade, my school had a day where we could all dress up as what we wanted to be. My dad was a judge for the Northern Cheyenne then, and I wore his black robes to school. Everyone thought I wanted to be a nun!”
Born in Missoula and raised in Billings, Bear Don’t Walk is an enrolled member of the Crow Tribe and has ties to the Salish and Ojibwe nations as well. Her father, Urban Bear Don’t Walk, was one of the first American Indian attorneys in the United States and was the second member of the Crow Tribe to ever get a law degree.
“Because of my dad, I was a legacy at the University of Montana in Missoula,” she said. “That’s notable, because it’s a new thing in Indian country to have legacy lawyers. I’m really proud of that.
“I was raised in a very education-focused environment,” she added. “My parents actually met at Montana State College; they were among just a handful of Indian students. At that time, there were just 156 Indians in college in the entire United States.”
Bear Don’t Walk’s father remains in private practice at the age of 72, and her mother, Marjorie, is the executive director at the Indian Health Board of Billings. Starting when her daughter was just 11 years old, Marjorie Bear Don’t Walk built an impressive career in urban Indian health care administration.
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