Associated Press

The Invisible Men… and Women: Many Native American Attorneys Harassed

Gale Courey Toensing

Native American attorneys often feel invisible and that their experiences are not valid or real, according to a ground-breaking study by the National Native American Bar Association  (NNABA) and the NNABA Foundation.

The Pursuit of Inclusion: An In-Depth Exploration of the Experiences and Perspectives of Native American Attorneys in the Legal Profession, released April 6, is the only comprehensive research regarding Native American attorneys across all practice settings. Its most significant finding shows that traditional diversity and inclusion efforts have failed to reach Native American attorneys, who lag behind even other underrepresented groups in terms of inclusion, retention, and representation.

"This comprehensive research . . . 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."

Research highlights:

·       527 Native American attorneys, approximately 20 percent of the 2,640 Native American attorneys in the United States, provided information for the study.

·       The most satisfied attorneys work in the tribal sector, and the least satisfied attorneys work for the federal/state government or law firms, but tribal politics/cliques, overwhelming workloads, and the inability to make a difference are primary sources of dissatisfaction even within the generally satisfying  context.

·       Over 40 percent of the attorneys experienced demeaning comments or other types of harassment based on their race, ethnicity, and/or tribal affiliation; and at least 33 percent 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 percent); discrimination based on gender (35 to 4 percent); denial of advancement or promotional opportunities due to gender (21% to 3%); and denial of appropriate compensation due to gender (29 to 1 percent).

Gabe Galanda, whose firm Galanda Broadman co-sponsored the report, said the landmark study would help fill the dearth of data and empirical information about Native American attorneys’ experiences. “What is critical now is implementation of the report,” Galanda said.  “For the report to become more than just another dusty legal diversity study, hard work and dedication is now required, not only by the national tribal bar, but the mainstream bar, law schools, the legal industry, Indian Country and other stakeholders.”

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