The Federal Indian Bar Association this week will honor two lawyers for their significant contributions to Indian Country. Heather Kendall-Miller and Eric Eberhard will receive the Lawrence R. Baca Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Federal Indian Law at a conference on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona.
Kendall-Miller, Athabascan, has been an advocate for Alaska Native rights for more than 25 years. Her career includes serving as judicial clerk for Chief Justice Jay Rabinowitz of the Alaska Supreme Court, a Skadden Fellowship, and practicing law as a staff attorney for the Alaska Service Corporation. She joined the Native American Rights Fund in 1994 and argued Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998. Kendall-Miller received her J.D. from Harvard Law School where she was a classmate of former President Barack Obama.
The Alaska Legislature honored Kendall-Miller’s work in 2014. She was cited for her tireless advocacy on behalf of Katie John and subsistence rights for Alaska Natives. She wrote in Indian Country Today after John’s death.
“The Katie John litigation, more than any other subsistence case exemplifies the contentious battle waged between federal, tribal and state interests over jurisdiction of Alaska Native subsistence fishing rights … With Katie John’s passing, her determination to protect and preserve the Alaska Native subsistence way of life will live on through her family, her children, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It has been an honor and privilege for all of us at NARF to have worked with such a great and wonderful matriarch. She is an inspiration to all Native peoples and to all people who believe in right and justice. Rest in peace, Katie, your legacy lives on.”
Kendall-Miller is the co-author of a new essay in the academic journal, Daedalus, where she explores how Alaska Native cultures and governance structures are evolving and reasserting the inherent authority of sovereign governments.
Eberhard started his tribal legal career at DNA Legal Services in Window Rock, Arizona in 1973. His career included serving as Executive director of the Navajo Nation’s Washington, DC office; staff director and counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; Chair of Dorsey & Whitney’s Indian and Gaming Law Practice Group; and is now affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law.
In his 1999 testimony to the Senate about the importance of legal services, Eberhard talked about his days with DNA Legal Services.
“No longer was I engaged in the urban practice of poverty law. The libraries, courthouses, law firms, law enforcement, electricity, telephones and fax machines that were so readily available and which had been taken for granted in my practice a few weeks earlier were either gone, in scant supply or only available at great distances. The easiest of tasks became something to be planned well in advance,” he said.
“The nearest state court was a sixty-mile round trip over a stretch of highway that had more fatalities per year than any other rural road in the United States. The nearest federal district court was about two hundred miles away. The nearest federal court of appeals was 1,900 miles away. The tribal court was more accessible geographically, but was still very much a developing institution.”
"Congratulations to two exceptional attorneys for their lifetime commitment to the development of Federal Indian Law,” said Federal Bar Association Indian Law Section Chair Tracy Toulou in a news release.
“We look forward to honoring them.”