WASHINGTON - On Nov. 15, President Bush nominated Diane Humetewa as U.S. attorney for Arizona, positioning the Hopi career prosecutor to become the first Native woman to serve as a U.S. attorney.
The Senate must confirm her, and Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl have called on their colleagues for a swift vote of approval. McCain and Kyl recommended Humetewa to the Bush administration.
In keeping with the past practice of Bush nominees, Humetewa has declined media requests for comment while the nomination process is ongoing. But her credentials spoke well for her candidacy, while professional colleagues and Hopi leadership figures seconded them with unqualified praise.
Professional credentials are seldom a problem with top federal nominees. But if confirmed, Humetewa will follow former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton in Arizona, one of eight whose firings (for motives that included an over-commitment to Indian-specific issues, according to testimony before Congress) touched off months of controversy that only ended with the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Tribal leaders and organizations nationwide, as well as the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Amnesty International and a broad range of others, have called on the government for a greater commitment to justice in Indian country. Their demands have served, among other things, to put the Indian-specific credentials of any U.S. attorney-nominee from a Native-populous state such as Arizona under a microscope.
Barbara Poley, president of the Hopi Foundation in the Hopi village of Kykotsmovi, Ariz., said Humetewa comes from a Hopi family that put a strong emphasis on education. Humetewa attended Arizona State University, earning a law degree in 1993 from what is now the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. She began her career as a victim's advocate for the Arizona U.S. attorney's office, and went on to serve six U.S. attorneys as an assistant U.S. attorney.
Poley has no doubt that Hopi culture remains a fixture of her thinking and her character. ''If you know your values, your Hopi values, you carry that with you outside.''
Humetewa's career features regular contact with the Hopi community and Native issues from the outset. In the early '90s, ''she was elected out here as one of our Hopi Education Endowment Fund board members,'' Poley said. As president of the tribal nonprofit initiative to fund education through a provision of the Internal Revenue Code authorizing tribal autonomy over regulatory items, Poley had a good association with board member Humetewa for a couple of years. Humetewa eventually served as an appellate court judge in Hopi tribal court, as tribal liaison to the Arizona U.S. attorney's office, and as counsel to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during McCain's two tenures as SCIA chairman.
She also serves the Hopi as a good example, said Poley. The Hopi Foundation recently graduated a first class of 13 in the Hopi Leadership and Professional Mentoring Program, designed to augment management skills with support from the W.K. Kellogg and Marguerite Casey foundations. The next class will have another Hopi leader to look up to: ''Seeing young people like her move into positions like that is excellent.''
The Native American Bar Association of Arizona has issued a strong statement of support for Humetewa's candidacy, and Charlton has weighed in with the Arizona Republic newspaper to describe Humetewa as an ''outstanding prosecutor and a person with a clear moral compass who ... demonstrated good judgment consistently.''