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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 24, 2002 - Issue 68


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Cherokee Nation Welcomes Woman to Highest Court

by Mac Bentley The Oklahoman
Stacy LeedsTAHLEQUAH -- The "Cherokee renaissance" that Principal Chief Chad Smith promised in his inauguration speech three years ago continued this week when the Cherokee Nation swore in its first female justice. Stacy Leeds, a 30-year-old law professor from Muskogee, is a member of the Cherokee Nation's highest court, the Judicial Appeals Tribunal, after taking her oath on the tribal courthouse steps Thursday in downtown Tahlequah.

Leeds was appointed by Smith and confirmed by the tribal council Monday. She replaces Philip Viles, who spent 25 years on the Judicial Appeals Tribunal. In May the tribal council voted against confirming Viles for another term.

Leeds joined the three-person tribunal three years and a day after Smith noted during his inauguration the importance of women as leaders in the historically matriarchal tribe.

"We ask our women to step forward to guide us," he said on the courthouse lawn in 1999.

Leeds said she wasn't aware of what Smith said three years ago, but did appreciate his making similar remarks at her swearing-in ceremony.

"Traditionally, the Cherokee Nation has been a matrilineal society," she said. "A number of tribes were based on matrilineal rather than patrilineal societies. Wilma Mankiller was elected to the executive branch back in the '80s, and we've had strong (female) leadership on the (tribal) council as well as the executive branch.

"We just haven't had it in the judicial."

Leeds, a graduate of the University of Tulsa law school, also will be teaching law at the University of Kansas this fall. She spent the past two years teaching at the University of North Dakota Law School as well as directing that school's Northern Plains Indian Law Center.

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