Friday, July 10, 2009

Native Success Stories (And Aside on Sotomayor and Cultural Experience)

MORE Native lawyers please, especially ones like these three women, who overcame adversity to become successful attorneys who fight not only for their clients, but for their tribes. This story is an inspiration to anyone (man or woman of any race) who faces long odds in their quests to do what they want with their lives.

There's something else about the article that I believe is worth noting:

[Leonika] Charging, 35, grew up in White Shield, N.D., on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. Unlike Smith’s tribe, Charging’s people — the affiliated tribes of the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa — follow a matriarchal tradition. Women are given more leadership roles and control. That helped spur her to become a lawyer.

When she was young, she heard stories about how the federal government moved her people off their native lands in North Dakota and flooded the reservation to create a lake and park. The move caused decades of trauma that still lasts today, and Charging believes it wasn’t fair.

So she decided to take action to help prevent something like that from ever happening again. She decided to become a lawyer.

It's not that unusual for minorities who are aware-or particularly proud-of their cultures, to feel motivated to do something on behalf of their ethnic group once they achieve a position of influence in society. Or if not that, then at least to find their decisions in their lives and careers informed or influenced by their own personal cultural experiences, or the experiences of their culture and ethnicity as a whole. Many Native Americans grew up hearing about the history of the government's mistreatment of their tribes; perhaps as an attorney, this makes someone like Charging sympathetic to those who are mistreated by the government, or employers, or people who otherwise have some measure of unaccounted for power over their client's life. There's nothing at all unusual about this, which is why it boggles my mind that someone like Sonia Sotomayor can say that "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life" and then almost immediately be accused of racism (against-presumably-whites) for that statement. All that she meant was that as a woman of her background, she is familiar with ethnic and sex discrimination (and to a lesser degree oppression), certainly moreso than the average white, male judge who has not faced such discrimination in his life, a familiarity that is likely to make her more sympathetic to those who come before her court who are treated unfairly by those more powerful than they. This is not really that remarkable of a proposition; many white people who never face any discrimination are similarly influenced by their cultural experiences to believe that racial discrimination no longer exists in America. But the idea that a minority might have a better sense of fairness and unfairness is apparently a highly offensive notion to (mostly white) conservatives who believe that, all things being equal, racism, discrimination and unfair treatment has all been but oblitereted in our society.

1 comment:

Nat-Wu said...

Well sure. If you never experience it, it doesn't exist, right?