Skip to main content

From law practice to consultant; Whitewolf weathers professional and personal storms

PORTLAND, Ore. - Celeste "Cece" Whitewolf's career brings to mind the quote
"the best laid plans of mice and men ..." Of course in Whitewolf's case,
it's a woman. A strong Cayuse woman from the Confederated Tribes of the
Umatilla Reservation, even though she's only a little over five feet tall.

Whitewolf doesn't understand the word no. So after she was diagnosed with
breast cancer in 1998, she just closed her law practice, started a
nonprofit cancer support group, and kept the cash flow going by doing
consulting work on cancer issues. It wasn't quite as easy as it sounds, of
course. Whitewolf endured deep depression and suicidal tendencies, got
fired from two jobs right in a row after she had a mastectomy, chemotherapy
and radiation, and had to toss any hope of saving for retirement out the

"It was worth it, though," Whitewolf said, laughing. "Even though I'm 55, I
have less gray hair now than when I was a practicing attorney. Cancer saved

After graduating from Portland's Lewis and Clark Law School and passing the
bar in 1988, Whitewolf opened her own law office. "I took anything that
came in the door and traveled all around the region doing state and federal
and tribal cases," she said. "Now that I look back on those times, I see I
should have just concentrated on one type of law and one particular
courtroom. I thought I had to be God and walk on water and solve
everybody's problems."

"In law school they don't teach you how to be a business person - meeting
payrolls, finding the right people to hire, doing your taxes. All that. I
still remember the day I only had two dollars left after paying my staff
and the bills, and didn't have enough to buy nylons."

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Finally after eight years in extremely high gear, Whitewolf fell prey to
depression and thoughts of taking her own life. "It was 1996 and I said
'I'm tired. This is no fun.' Then in 1998, when I was trying to learn to be
a little calmer, I got my cancer diagnosis," she said. "It was like 'Huh?
What's going on?'"

"But the creator knows that I'm a person who can only settle down when
someone's holding my face still with their hands and saying 'Listen to me.
Stop girl. You've got cancer. You have to take a look at your life.'"

After that Whitewolf could no longer practice law and took part-time work.
"I loved my secretary job, making copies and answering the telephone," she
said. "But eventually my aggressive outgoing side came out, and they didn't
like that and fired me. Then it happened on the next job too, and after
that I decided that I didn't think I was supposed to work for someone else.
I don't kowtow to people very well."

Whitewolf's brown eyes flash with confidence and the education she has
earned. "That's when I decided to parlay my status as cancer survivor,
Indian woman familiar with both the reservation and urban areas, and
affiliation with the law into a consulting business."

It didn't take Whitewolf long to find a large national network of
researchers, evaluators and advocates focused on cancer. And after she
established a nonprofit support group for cancer survivors in Portland -
the Native People's Circle of Hope - she began to work as a paid consultant
under the umbrella of that organization. Whitewolf is quick to point out,
though, that most of her work with the Native People's Circle of Hope is
pro bono and that pay from the consulting jobs she gets is nothing
comparable to what she earned as an attorney.

"Still, I'm grateful to have been able to pull something together to keep
body and soul alive," Whitewolf said. "The real payoff from everything I've
been through though is happiness, and you can't buy that. Now I know that I
don't walk on water. That the Creator is the only person that can save a
life and all I can do is help. And that's what's given me the best