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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 29, 2001 - Issue 52


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Lenor Scheffler Named Tribal Judge

by Joshua Dixon Redwood Falls Gazette
Lenor Scheffler"Indian Law is an overlay of every type of law there is," Lenor Scheffler said Friday. "There's business law, tax law, family law: the whole range of things that any government has to deal with."

Scheffler, the first member of the Mdewakanton Dakota to become a lawyer, has just been sworn in as chief judge of the Upper Sioux Community Tribal Court, another first.

In addition to her normal responsibilities at the Minneapolis-based law firm of Best & Flanagan LLP, Scheffler will drive over to the Upper Sioux courthouse near Granite Falls once a month to oversee disputes in the Upper Sioux Community.

A 1975 graduate of Morton High School, Scheffler's law career really began when she was 14 years old.

"I wanted to know what lawyers did," she said. "I had no role models of Indian lawyers. My dad called to a couple of law firms in Redwood, and Wayne Farnberg and Orrin Estebo were willing to let me work with them."

Estebo and Scheffler still stay in touch.

"Bless his heart, he just left a message on my machine," Scheffler said with a chuckle on Friday.

"My family is really happy that I'll be in the area at least once a month," she continued. "Lots of people, lots of cousins, keep asking me to stay with them. Alternately, I'll be staying with one of my aunties."

Because the Upper Sioux is a government unto itself, Scheffler can't allow herself to specialize too much.

"At the Upper Sioux, I will have civil jurisdiction. Right now, most of my calendar is filled with family issues, land issues, gaming issues. Right now I'm representing several individuals in a custody matter."

Scheffler is also has jurisdiction over area casinos, and has to deal with licensing, background checks of new employees, and the whole swirl of other legal issues every casino faces. Casinos run by American Indians have to deal with both federal and tribal council law, and the back-and-forth between the two governments provides another challenge for a tribal judge.

All that for someone who helped found the American Indian Bar Association, and who just joined a new law firm three months ago.

At Best & Flanagan LLP, Scheffler specializes in the areas of federal Indian law, gaming law, tribal election representation, tribal financing, and securities law.

Before joining Best and Flanagan, Scheffler practiced Indian law for three years with another firm. Previously, she served as general counsel of the Prairie Island Dakota Community, vice president for corporate and legal affairs of Little Six, Inc, and securities examiner with the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

She received her BA degree from St Olaf College, and J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law. In 1997,, she was named one of CityBusiness's "Forty under Forty" business leaders. She frequently lectures on federal Indian law topics. She has also been a volunteer tutor and mentor to numerous Indian students.

"Laws are a part of who we are," Scheffler said. "We know we have laws on the reservation, and there are laws outside the reservation. As an Indian person you are much more aware of laws and differences than the average person."

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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