SEATTLE – Gabriel S. Galanda decided he wanted to be an attorney while he was a high school student doing clerical work in a law firm in his hometown of Port Angeles.
“They truly wanted to help people and their families, so much so that they’d often barter for services,” Galanda said. “I recall people paying with cords of wood, salmon, even a used car. I loved watching them help positively change people’s lives.”
Galanda knew that education was the key if he was to be a positive force in the world. “I have many role models, including my grandpa, who was my father figure while growing up. My grandpa was my provider, my inspiration, my rock. In particular, he impressed on me work ethic and the need to get an education.”
He stayed with the law firm through community college and honed his leadership skills as student body president, then transferred to Western Washington University where he earned an English literature degree in 1997. He interned in Sen. Patty Murray’s office in Washington, D.C., and earned a law degree at University of Arizona College of Law in 2000.
He joined the firm of Williams Kastner in Seattle that year and poured himself into his work, driven by a desire to make a difference in the lives of others.
“I must admit that I’m a workaholic,” Galanda said. “The thing is, representing tribes and Indian people doesn’t feel like work to me. It’s doing what I love. So I end up ‘working’ more than I probably should.”
In the ensuing nine years, he helped lead the successful drive to require that knowledge of American Indian law be tested on the Washington state bar exam. As a member of the Northwest Indian Bar Association, he helped raise thousands of dollars in scholarships for Native law students. He secured a settlement of $5.5 million and the return of 17 acres of ancestral land for Lower Elwha Klallam after an ancestral village and burial site were destroyed by a state transportation project. He is lobbying for equal opportunities for young Native athletes, and is an advocate for economic diversification in Indian country.
“I’ve known Gabe since he was a young man in high school and am proud of his accomplishments in becoming a Native lawyer and corporate professional,” said W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam chairman.
“With young American Indian professionals like Gabe’s hard work and dedication on behalf of tribal communities, the future of Indian country looks promising and bright.”
As a result of his work, Galanda, a Nomlaki and Concow descendant enrolled with the Round Valley Indian Tribes, has been named to two lists of top business leaders under 40.
In September, Galanda, 33, was chosen as a Native American 40 Under 40 by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. The list recognizes Native professionals younger than 40 who have demonstrated “leadership, initiative and dedication in propelling Native businesses and communities towards further progress throughout Indian country.”
Two months earlier, he was named to the Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, which spotlights business leaders younger than 40 “who excel in their industry and show dynamic leadership.”
Galanda said he was “pretty humbled” to be honored twice.
When his law career was beginning in 2000, gaming was just “starting to make sense” as an economic driver in Northwest Indian country and, at the time, there were not a lot of attorneys in downtown Seattle who specialized in gaming and Indian law. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
He founded Williams Kastner’s Tribal Practice Group in 2002, which assists tribal governments and Native-owned corporations with economic development and diversification initiatives, and works with corporate entities, financiers and gaming vendors that do business in Indian country.
He advocates on behalf of tribal governments and gaming companies to the Washington State Gambling Commission and National Indian Gaming Commission. He has co-chaired the Emerging Northwest Tribal Economies conference, a Northwest economic diversification summit, since 2004.
“I’m proud of all of the opportunities my team and I have, and have had, to represent tribal governments in matters that are vital to their continued existence as sovereigns and to their economic success,” he said.
“Litigating and settling the Tse-whit-zen litigation for the Lower Elwha Klallam people, which included a return of 17 acres of waterfront land in my hometown to the tribe, is one of my proud accomplishments.”
Galanda is inspired by “Indian leaders and lawyers who have devoted their lives and careers to the advancement of Indian people and Native rights.” He is influenced today by his teen job at the Port Angeles law firm. “Despite the financial demands of corporate legal practice, we try to practice with that same compassion and flexibility for our clients.”
He counts among his role models: W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam chairman; Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; the late Alison Gottfriedson, Puyallup fishing rights activist; Debora Juarez, a former King County Superior Court judge and a member of Galanda’s tribal practices team; Wilson Pipestem, chairman of the Notah Begay III Foundation; Mel Tonasket, member of the Colville Tribal Council and the state Board of Health; and Ron Solimon, CEO of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
Galanda met his wife, Miranda Dickson, at Williams Kastner, where she worked in administration and marketing before leaving last year to start her own personal styling and shopping business.
“Marrying my wife and having the security of owning a home and car, after being reared in a family with divorce and pain, without house or home or car, are very gratifying. Waking up in the morning to things like hot water, a warm home, and a nice meal and cup of coffee are things I don’t take for granted.”
“Gabe is such a genuine force of a human being,” Juarez said.
“His two 40-40 awards were not goofy self-serving lawyer awards. These were real recognitions from communities that see and appreciate his strength and commitment to things he believes in: Indian people and communities, and better lives for people who are underserved and often invisible.
“I have learned so much from Gabe. I expect great things from Gabe – not as a lawyer, though he is a force to be reckoned with, but, like a young Barack Obama, I know he will be on the national front doing great things for more people. He has a big heart and a great mind. It has been my honor to know and love him like a brother.”