Samuel Crowfoot, who grew up in the Siksika Blackfoot reservation in Alberta, Canada, knew from a young age that he wanted to be a lawyer and improve life for Native tribes. Just six years out of law school, Crowfoot now serves as the Chief Judge for the Pueblo of Zuni Tribal Court, located in Zuni, New Mexico.
Why did you want to attend law school?
“Being raised on an Indian reservation meant I saw the ill effects of poor policy imposed on Native tribes. My father and grandfather still remember a time when they would have to show papers to an Indian agent for permission to leave the reservation. Going to law school was a way for me to improve the lives of others and help my family and tribal community.”
Who was your favorite UW Law professor, and why?
“I had so many. Richard Monette taught me Indian law and helped me reach my goal of becoming an Indian Country attorney. Aviva Kaiser taught me the importance of written persuasion. I use the principles that Cecelia Klingele, Michele LaVigne, Ben Kempinen, and William Church taught me every day. Cheryl Weston was tough and made me prove my mettle. I will miss her.”
Describe your current job.
“As Chief Judge, I manage a staff of fifteen employees. My court hears close to 3,000 cases a year. My caseload is approximately 60% criminal cases and 40% civil cases. Many tribal communities face economic and social challenges akin to inner cities of major metropolitan centers: poverty, crime, substance abuse, and unemployment are extremely high and are often compounded by the geographical isolation. There are simply not enough resources and manpower to address the problems that exist.”
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
“Being able to help people that are often forgotten, people who aren’t used to getting help. A lot of people who do bad things aren’t bad people. They are a product of their environment, and if they had better opportunities, they would be making better choices.”
What is your prized possession?
“An eagle feather headdress given to me by my father when I graduated law school. The design on the headband is a family design and belonged to my great-grandfather, father, and now me.”
Interview by Karen Koethe