Angelique W. EagleWoman, Wambdi A. Was’teWinyan

On Wednesday, June 15, 2020, a national press release announced a joint study by The Center for Women in Law and The NALP (National Association for Law Placement) Foundation titled, “Women of Color – A Study of Law Student Experiences.”

The press release stated the analysis within the study was focused on “Asian/Pacific Islander, Black/African-American and Hispanic women/Latinas comprised the majority of the women of color respondent.” Noticeably absent from this list are Native American/American Indian/Alaskan Native women who are on every checklist also women of color.

Immediately the joint study organizations were contacted and a meeting held to discuss the “concerns” of Native women law professors and lawyers, Native men law professors and lawyers, and allies who teach in the field of Indian law with the organizational leaders for the study. 

During the meeting on Friday, June 19, 2020, the study organizers defended the study as “completed” and the remedy proposed was to possibly add in language on the statistically low number of Native women law student responses as justification for the exclusion. In reviewing the study, every chart, graph and qualitative representation excludes Native American women law students. 

If the study is searched for the phrase “American Indian”, the result is one mention in the appendix in a chart. Yet, the study was defended with the justification that the responses received by Native women surveyed was included in aggregate numbers.

Frankly, this is insulting to Native American women law students, lawyers, and law professors. To say that Native American women are marginalized, invisible and regularly excluded is not an overgeneralization, but the reality we face on a daily basis. As a Native American law professor, 

I will not be silent and allow our next generations of women law students to become voiceless due to poor methodology, lack of diligence or just plain bias by national law organizations that are run by women who should know better.

Our voices are not the same as other women of color because our identities carry nations with them. We are political beings with the status of citizenship/membership in Tribal Nations in a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The method of simply aggregating our responses with other women of color silences our perspectives. 

Because of our political identities as women who uphold sovereign Indigenous nations, the law school experience is often devastating in the lack of attention to Native American legal issues and the legal relationship with federal, state and local governments. We often experience isolation and depression in dealing with the lack of understanding, course offerings or representation of our peoples and legal issues in law school curricula.

We would like to champion studies that highlight the unique experiences women of color face in majority White law schools. There was an opportunity to provide insight into our struggles and not only was the opportunity missed, but it became weaponized when the study organizers offered excuses and the refusal to acknowledge the harm of rendering Native American women invisible in a national legal study of this type. 

As stated on the call by one Native woman law professor, this study will be read by law firms, legal organizations, law school administrators and the inference to be drawn is that we are statistically insignificant and our perspectives matter so little that they can be aggregated into silence.

On the call, the study organizers were asked to rescind the study and purposefully survey Native American women law students to re-release the study with our voices represented in every section. We volunteered to assist in reaching Native American women law students through our law schools and our National Native American Law Student Association (NNALSA). 

This request was denied. We also expressed the view that the title of the study was misleading and overly broad as “women of color” as there could be no such study by excluding Native American women. At a minimum, the study title should be changed to reflect that it was a snapshot of one year with responses of some women of color students sent in by 46 unidentified, self-selecting law schools.

This is a shoddy study that misrepresents women of color in law schools and it should be immediately withdrawn. On behalf of Native American women in law schools and in the legal profession, we ask for all allies to stand with us and demand the retraction of this study and public condemnation for the exclusion of Native American women law students. 

In this country, we are currently advocating for awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) because of this type of bias to marginalize and not value who we are. This cannot continue. We will not remain quiet and acquiesce to the erasure of who we are and what we experience in law schools across the country.

Angelique W. EagleWoman, (Wambdi A. Was’teWinyan), is a law professor, legal scholar and has served as a pro tempore Tribal Judge in several Tribal Court systems. As a practicing lawyer, one of the highlights of her career was to serve as General Counsel for her own Tribe, the Sisseton-Wahpeton (Dakota) Oyate. She graduated from Stanford University with a BA in Political Science, received her Juris Doctor degree from the University of North Dakota School of Law with distinction, and her L.L.M. in American Indian and Indigenous Law with honors from the University of Tulsa College of Law. Follow her on twitter @ProfEagleWoman