Justice Department Selects First Indian Country Legal Fellow

Charisse Arce, was recently chosen by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as the first Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Legal Fellow.
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Charisse Arce was recently chosen by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., from a large pool of highly talented and qualified individuals, as the first Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Legal Fellow.

Arce of Bristol Bay, will serve a three-year term in the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona. She will be assigned to the district’s Indian Country Crime Section and will spend a portion of her term appointed to the Pascua Yaqui tribal prosecutor’s office.

The Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship is apart of the Attorney General’s Honors Program and named in honor of the late Department of Justice attorney who built a long and distinguished career that spanned 30 years. Tenoso was an expert in Federal Indian Law and was an exceptionally effective advisor on litigation and policy matters. She worked tirelessly for American Indian women’s rights including the Violence Against Women Act of 2013. Throughout her storied career she mentored legal interns and acted as an inspiration and guide to many young attorneys.

The Fellowship was awarded to a candidate who was extraordinarily well-qualified as a new attorney while possessing a deep interest in and enthusiasm for improving public safety in tribal communities.

“This is an investment in the future of the department, named for a beloved and extraordinary member of our DOJ family – and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Indians – who sadly passed away this summer, but devoted her career to advancing the federal government’s relationships with sovereign tribes. This program exemplifies how we are seeking to institutionalize the department’s commitment to justice in Indian country,” said Attorney General Holder. “The Indian country fellowship will give each candidate an opportunity to gain significant experience and exposure to the work of the Justice Department in Indian country, and in the long term help us build a cadre of legal talent in the department with expertise in federal Indian law.”

Arce is currently a fellow at Bristol Bay Native Corporation, one of 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations created under federal law. She received her law degree from Seattle University School of Law, where she served as a member of the editorial staff of the American Indian Law Journal. Her credentials include serving as an extern for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, for the Washington State Supreme Court, and for the Department of Interior’s Office of the Solicitor. She’s worked as a legal research assistant for a law professor and a private law firm. Arce graduated, cum laude, with a B.A. in Marketing form Seattle University prior to attending law school.

“We are excited to welcome Charisse Arce to the District of Arizona as the first Gayle Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship recipient,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona John S. Leonardo. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to making this inaugural fellowship a success for all involved and a model for future fellowships in Arizona and in districts around the country. Ms. Arce has demonstrated a strong commitment to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and we look forward to having her in our Tucson office and working closely with the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe.”

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe, near Tucson, is one of three tribal nations selected as a pilot program under VAWA 2013. The Tulalip Tribes of Washington and the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon were the other two tribes to be chosen as pilot programs. VAWA which gives tribal governments the right to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over certain defendants, regardless if they are Native or non-Native, who commit acts of domestic violence or dating violence or violate certain protection orders in Indian country. VAWA fully takes affect in the lower 48 states on March 7, 2015, but since the pilots began more than 20 criminal cases have been charged against non-Native domestic violence offenders and several have been convicted of domestic violence crimes.

In May Pascua Yaqui Tribe Chief Prosecutor Alfred Urbina told ICTMN that the number of cases has been surprising since the pilot program had started two months earlier. “We thought we’d have 5 to 10 cases for the whole calendar year. But in just the first two months since the tribe has had the authority to arrest non-Indians, there have been more than 10 arrests,” Urbina said.

RELATED: Justice Long Denied Comes to Indian Country; First Post-VAWA Trial Set

RELATED: VAWA Already Improving Life for Pascua Yaqui Tribe

Arce will have the opportunity to be a part of the building and shaping process of VAWA along with other judicial issues while working with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

“The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is pleased to have the opportunity to partner with the District of Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Honors Program, through the Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship,” said Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman Peter Yucupicio. “We welcome the new Department of Justice fellow and look forward to a productive partnership as we fight violent crime, work to keep our community safe, and continue to implement the Violence Against Women Act, and Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction (SDVCJ).”