SEATTLE, Wash. - Rion Ramirez, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Pascua Yaqui tribes, has been elected president of the Northwest Indian Bar Association.
The organization, known as NIBA, has 160 attorney members in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. It is a non-profit that provides scholarships for American Indian and Alaska Native law students. It is also advocating that American Indian law be included on the Washington bar exam.
Ramirez, 31, is an associate in Dorsey & Whitney LLP's Seattle office. He practices in the areas of Indian law, tribal finance, business law and gaming law. He is general counsel of Port Madison Enterprises, the economic development arm of the Suquamish Tribe. He is also general counsel of the Quinault Indian Nation Enterprise Board.
He served as president of the bar association in 2000-01. He succeeds Gabe Galanda, who was elected treasurer.
NIBA's vice president is Juliana Repp Nez Perce, a staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services' Eastern Washington Regional Office in Spokane. She is severing her second term as a member of the Kalispel Tribal Gaming Board.
Treasurer Galanda Nomlaki/Concow, is an associate with Williams, Kastner & Gibbs PLLC's Seattle office. His practice focuses on complex, multi-party tort and commercial litigation and Indian law. He is also president of the Washington State Bar Association's Indian Law Section.
Secretary Lael Echo-Hawk Pawnee, is reservation Attorney for the Tulalip Tribes near Marysville, Wash. She advises the tribal government on a diverse array of legal issues.
At-Large Member Ron Whitener Squaxin Island, is an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law, and serves as director of the law school's Tribal Court Defense Clinic.
At-Large Member Lisa DeCora Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, is an assistant regional counsel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office in Seattle. Her clients include Medicare and Medicaid, Indian Health Service, and Administration for Children and Families.
At-Large Member Scott Sufficool Quinault, is state legislative liaison and tribal liaison for Seattle Mayor Gregory Nickels. He is also the city's tribal liaison and works with 12 area tribes on treaty and cultural resources issues.
Ramirez was born in 1972 in Granada Hills, Calif. His father, Larry Ramirez, pitched for California State University, Northridge; the team won the College World Series, and winning pitcher Ramirez is the only American Indian to pitch in college's Fall Classic.
The younger Ramirez attended California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, on a football scholarship but transferred to the University of Washington. He worked as a shake logger to put him through college, and he and his wife, Michelle, lived off allotments of deer, elk, fish, rice and corn from her Quinault family.
"All I had was this 1968 Cadillac with the trunk held down with a bungee cord," Ramirez said. "We had no furniture. We couldn't afford day care. We learned to survive."
The hard work paid off. He earned his law degree in 1998 and is now an associate with one of the 25 largest law firms in the world.
As president of NIBA, Ramirez wants to see American Indian law be included on the Washington bar exam, wants to provide scholarships for more American Indian and Alaska Native law students, and educate more people about American Indian law.
Specifically, American Indian law consists of those areas of the law that particularly affect American Indians. Ramirez and Galanda said American Indian law is becoming more complex as tribes and nations increasingly exercise their sovereignty.
In the last decade, Washington tribes have become an influential economic, legal and political force. They are now engaged in real estate development, banking and finance, telecommunications, wholesale and retail trade, and tourism.
Galanda said there's a common "misperception" that American Indian law relates only to treaties and gaming. In fact, American Indian law has a place in family law, business, construction, real estate and civil law. He pointed out, in 2002, Washington's 21 gaming tribes generated $648 million in revenue, contributing $2.9 million to local government and state non-profit groups.Washington tribes employ nearly 15,000 American Indian and non-Indian employees. By comparison, Microsoft employs 20,000 Washingtonians.
Washington tribes occupy 3.2 million acres of land in the state.
Ramirez added, "As we in Indian country expand, Indian law is becoming a prevalent issue. It's an integral part of things these days."