Racheal M. White Hawk: 2016 Best and Brightest

by Jeff Schmitt on

Rachael White Hawk

Racheal M. White Hawk

Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University

Hometown: Grand Island, Nebraska

Undergraduate School: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Undergraduate Major and Minor:

Majors: International Studies and Spanish

Minors: Economics and Political Science

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During Law School:

Awards and Honors:

  • First Place, Ross-Blakely Law Library Award for Exemplary Student Research
  • Dean’s Recruitment Award
  • Gold ’n Gavel Scholar
  • Pedrick Scholar
  • CALI Award for Economic Development in Indian Country
  • CALI Award for Federal Indian Law
  • CALI Award for Indian Law and Taxation
  • American Indian Education Foundation Graduate Scholarship
  • American Indian Graduate Center Fellowship
  • Association on American Indian Affairs Scholarship
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs Loan for Service Award
  • Indian Law Resource Center Terrance A. Sidley Fellowship
  • Kevin Kane Memorial Book Scholarship
  • Native American Bar Association of Arizona Scholarship
  • Native American Law Students Association Member of the Month
  • A New Formula for Tribal Internet Gaming, Jurimetrics (student comment chosen for publication)
  • Salt River Indian Community Scholarship
  • Union Pacific Council on Native American Heritage Scholarship

Leadership Roles:

  • Editor-in-Chief, Jurimetrics, The Journal of Law, Science, and Technology
  • Vice President and 1L Representative, Native American Law Students Association
  • Vice President and 1L Representative, International Law Students Association
  • Sovereign Native Youth Leadership Program, Camp Counselor

Activities and Community Work:

  • American Bar Association Judicial Clerkship Program
  • Hispanic National Bar Association Mentoring Program
  • Homeless Legal Assistance Program, 1L Volunteer
  • Indian Legal Clinic, Student Attorney
  • National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition
  • Pre-Law Summer Institute at the American Indian Law Center, Student
  • Tribal Financial Manager Certificate Program, Presenter on Indian law
  • VIS International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court Competition

Where have you interned during law school?

  • Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP
  • The Honorable David G. Campbell, United States District Court, District of Arizona
  • The Honorable Donn Kessler, Arizona Court of Appeals
  • The Indian Law Resource Center

What practice area will you be specializing in after graduation? Indian law

Why did you choose to attend law school? I chose to attend law school because I wanted to work on behalf of tribes and I found that being an attorney was an excellent way to support tribal communities.  Before law school, I worked at the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs for a year and a half. While there, I learned a great deal from my mentor Judi Gaiashkibos. She is a Ponca woman who has served tribal communities for over twenty years. She taught me a lot about what it means to be a professional Native American woman and how I can use my skills to work for the betterment of Indian people. She encouraged me to go to law school and pursue my dreams. And she provided me with a lot of skills necessary for law school.  She had me testify before the Nebraska legislature several times, allowed me to be a camp counselor for Native American high school students, helped me become a reporter for the Native Daughters project, and so much more. I will always be grateful for her leadership and mentorship.

What was your favorite law school class? My favorite law school class was Federal Indian Law I.  Professor Rebecca Tsosie taught me this class and she is one of the most influential attorneys and professors in Indian law. She has a wealth of knowledge in the field and taught me everything I know about Indian law. She is extremely passionate about Federal Indian Law, and her passion shines through in the classroom. Federal Indian Law can be a tough subject to learn because some of the early case law is based on racist assumptions about Native Americans. Some of the early cases especially contain very offensive ideas and language about Native Americans, and yet modern Federal Indian Law is based on these very old, very offensive cases. However, Professor Tsosie teaches the class in an idealist, thinking outside the box way.  She taught me how to view those cases through a very critical lens, and how to make arguments in support of tribes. She taught me idealism in the field of Indian law, which can be very hard to do. I came out of her class knowing which arguments to make in court, and how to best advocate for a tribal client.

Which attorney do you most admire? The attorney I most admire is Kerry Patterson. She is a partner at Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP in Phoenix, Arizona and is a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians. As a Native American female partner in one of the largest law firms in the West, I admire her greatly. She has worked on several multimillion dollar real estate deals involving Native American lands, including the real estate deal for the Navajo Nation’s Twin Arrows Casino near Flagstaff, Arizona. During my summer working at Lewis Roca Rothgerber, I got to see her in action working tirelessly on behalf of tribes. She is also the former President of the Native American Bar Association of Arizona and is extremely devoted to the Indian community of Arizona. She has truly been a great mentor to me in my early legal career and someone I admire greatly both personally and professionally.

What have you enjoyed most about law school? My most enjoyable moment of law school was when I got to present my research at a national conference. As a student attorney in the Indian Legal Clinic, I researched and prepared a presentation for the National Congress of American Indians annual meeting in San Diego this year. My research entailed creating a template for tribes based on the new regulations for the federal recognition of Indian tribes that recently were enacted. I presented my research with my professor, Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, during the Federal Recognition Task Force Meeting. After the presentation, we were greeted by a number of the attendees who were very excited about the research and hopeful for the future. It was a wonderful experience meeting tribal representatives from across the country, to hear their stories of perseverance in the face of extreme adversity, and to know that our research was making a difference in people’s lives.

What word best describes your professional brand? Independent. I do my own thing a lot and I’m not afraid to go places or meet people. I have a goal in my mind and I’m not afraid to do the tough work to get there. I’ve lived in South Korea for a year, I’ve lived in China for two years, and Mexico and DC for a short time. I enjoy meeting new people, trying new things, and enjoying life.

If you were debt free, how would you spend your first paycheck after landing your first law job? I would fly to the Caribbean on my honeymoon with my husband. He’s from the Trinidad and Tobago and I’d like to see his hometown and spend time on the beach with him. I’d also like to visit Barbados.  Really I’d love to buy a plane ticket that would allow me to travel all around the world.

“I knew I wanted to go to law school when…I testified before the Nebraska legislature about the need to improve the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in Nebraska. My family was affected by the Indian Adoption Era when eight of my grandmother’s nine children were taken away from her prior to the enactment of ICWA. ICWA was passed because during the Indian Adoption Era, 25-35% of Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes for often unwarranted reasons and about 85% of those children were placed in non-Indian foster homes or institutions. When I testified before the Nebraska legislature about the need to improve ICWA within the state, I really felt like it was my duty to do something about the law on a policy level for the betterment of tribes. I felt like law was the best option to make a real difference in the lives of Indian people on a structural level.”

“If I didn’t go to law school, I would be…be in business school earning an MBA.  My focus in law school has been economic development in Indian Country and often I’ve contemplated getting a dual degree.”

Which academic or personal achievement are you most proud of?

Academically: My Fulbright research grant to China. After college, I was awarded a Fulbright research grant to Chengdu, China. While there, I worked with two non-profits and tested the water quality of two rural villages. I provided my research results to the non-profits in hopes that it would somehow lead to better water quality in the villages.

Personally: Finding my extended biological Lakota family. Eight of my grandmother’s nine children were taken from her during the Indian Adoption Era, a time period of about thirty years when 25-35% of Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes.  My Aunt Deb helped me find my Aunt Sandy, a woman who, as it turns out, advocates nationally on behalf of Indian adoptees. Aunt Deb also connected me with my Aunt Edith. In April 2013, Aunt Deb, Aunt Sandy, Aunt Edith, and my mom joined me for my “coming into the circle” ceremony, which is when a person dances for the first time at a powwow. It was the first time that these sisters had ever been in the same place at the same time.

Fun fact about yourself: I speak Mandarin Chinese.  I also bungee jumped in South Korea.

Favorite book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Favorite movie: The Big Lebowski

What are your hobbies? Rock climbing, camping, gardening, taking care of my five Betta fish, traveling internationally, and cooking.

What made Racheal such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2016?

“I first met Racheal when she was my student at the Pre-Law Summer Institute in New Mexico.  She was set to go to UCLA, but over the course of the summer, we persuaded her to come to ASU. She has excelled at ASU in every respect. Racheal is an extraordinarily talented student and she earned the CALI Award for my Federal Indian Law I class for her exceptional performance. Racheal is bright, articulate and sets high standards for herself. During law school, Racheal has made it a point to work in many different areas of practice (public interest, international human rights, Indian law, corporate law firm) and she will be doing a judicial clerkship for Justice Bales on the Arizona Supreme Court before she assumes her associate position at the law firm. Racheal is clearly on track for a stellar career in the law. I’m very grateful that she chose ASU and will graduate as our stellar alum! I highly recommend her for this honor.”

Rebecca Tsosie
Regents’ Professor of Law
Vice Provost for Inclusion and Community Engagement
Professor of Law, Indian Legal Program

  • Roberto A Henderson

    Rachel. Did you ever get your mom to a Pow Wow?

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