Senate Confirms Native American Woman to Federal Bench, Historic First

Diane Humetewa, a citizen of the Hopi Tribe in northeastern Arizona, made history last week when she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as a judge for the U.S. District Court for Arizona.  She becomes the first Native American woman to serve in the federal judiciary.

She is a former U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona and has been a prosecutor and judge for the Hopi tribe.

“I feel privileged to serve in this new capacity,” Humetewa said in a statement from Arizona State University, where she most recently has been special advisor to the ASU president for American Indian affairs.

Denver attorney Troy Eid, chairman of the national Indian Law & Order Commission, knows Humetewa from his tenure as U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado.

“She has a very strong background and is a tenacious worker,” Eid said. “Her appointment is a milestone but also a reminder of how far removed the federal judiciary is from Native America. For it to take from 1789 until now for an enrolled tribal citizen to become a federal judge is astonishing, especially given the federal government’s role in prosecuting many if not most felony crimes in Indian Country.”

Eid’s commission, charged by Congress and the White House with making recommendations for improving public safety and criminal justice on tribal lands, issued its final report, “A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer,” late last fall.

The report was scathing toward the existing system, which “extracts a terrible price: limited law enforcement; delayed prosecutions, too few prosecutions, and other prosecution inefficiencies; trials in distant courthouses; justice systems and players unfamiliar with or hostile to Indians and Tribes; and the exploitation of system failures by criminals, more criminal activity, and further endangerment of everyone living in and near Tribal communities.”

And while Humetewa’s confirmation does not directly address the issues raised by the report, it is a step in the right direction, said former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, who worked with Humetewa in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix.

“In this state more than any other, where we have 21 reservations and all (Indian country) felony offenses are tried in federal court, we do not have a bench that reflects the community it serves,” Charlton said. “And now, for the first time in our nation’s history, we’ll have a representative to the bench.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester,  D- Mont., chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs, agreed.

“Diane Humetewa is an inspiration to Native people, especially Native women across Indian Country,” he said in a statement. “This is an important appointment and long overdue.”

The commission led by Eid issued 40 recommendations that would impact and require reorganization in all three branches of the federal government, reallocate millions of dollars, require new spending, and build new criminal justice infrastructure from the ground up on many tribal lands across the U.S.

The report challenges the status quo of entrenched bureaucracies, federal and state, at every turn.

For their part, the Hopi reacted with pride to Humetewa’s confirmation, noting that the woman at the center of this historic first is from the village of Hotevilla.





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