Law in Contemporary Society

A Theory of Action for Becoming the First Woman Governor of the Chickasaw Nation

-- By MariHulbutta - 31 May 2018 (Second paper, final draft; 987 words)

When asked in Kindergarten what I want to be when I grow up, my response was “a Supreme Court Justice.” While my professional aspirations have essentially ruled out that wish completely, I have maintained an interest in devoting my career to law and its intersections with Native American policy. Upon leaving my home state of Oklahoma to attend college at Columbia, I affirmed my understanding that there was an entire world outside of where I grew up. Indeed, a world filled with diverse communities, peoples, and ideas that exceed the level of diversity in small Oklahoma towns.

In college, I prioritized striking a balance between further expanding the new perspective I was developing and maintaining ties to my home and tribal communities. I soon realized through my political science coursework that I had an unwavering interest in politics. Specifically, the relationship between tribes and the federal government. I pursued nearly all available courses that would allow me to explore ideas related to the tribal politic and led me to realize I had a personal aspiration of becoming a politician acting on behalf of a tribe or tribes. Initially I considered a role in the U.S. Congress, but abandoned that idea after years of repeated frustrations with the federal government’s partisan operatives and oft-antithetical decisions against tribal interests. Once my optimism of surmising potential avenues for tribes and the Trump administration faded into pure discontent and skepticism, I found myself questioning whether I could ever envision myself as an agent of the federal government – whether in Congress, the administration, or the federal court system. This is something I will wrestle with for the foreseeable future. However, I am fairly certain that I am in no rush to represent the federal government.

What I am certain of, however, is how grateful I am for having knowledgeable mentors and fair-minded role models in positions that straddle the political and legal spheres. They are executive tribal leaders, in-house tribal counsel, tribal judges, lobbyists, lawyers in the private and public sectors, and career politicians. They are, in other words, in roles I can tentatively see myself in.

State politics is an arena I am generally agnostic about, but I recognize the importance of being involved for the sake of advancing certain tribal interests – especially in Oklahoma where collaboration between tribes and the state is critical. Given the history of tribes being removed to Oklahoma prior to statehood and the lack of present-day contiguous reservations in the state, tribes must maintain relationships with local governments. In light of this dynamic, I am currently less repulsed by the idea of serving in state government than in a federal office.

This summer, I have the fortune of working in-house at one of my tribes and am working on matters that will expose me to the inner-workings of state politics. At the very least, this introduction to state affairs will prepare me to be a better advocate when I do return to Oklahoma to serve tribes. It might even help me decide whether I could ever see myself pursuing a role as a statewide elected officer. Though this question is also one I will need to mull over for some time (and am in no rush to find an answer to), it nevertheless comes to surface when I consider the larger (and more immediate) question of what type of advocate I wish to be – not solely in terms of placement, but also in terms of ethics.

My theory is that once I understand the boundaries that I am unwilling to cross as a lawyer and advocate, the employers and clients I choose to engage with will conform to the boundaries I’ve set for myself. I understand that no matter where or for whom I work, there will likely be instances in which I will have little choice but to come close to crossing my boundaries if not actually doing so. However, I think maintaining perspective and viewing the role as a means to an end will help me rationalize it for the time being. For instance, I have no interest in becoming a partner at a firm or ever doing corporate law. The role I want at a firm is to work on matters that either directly or closely relate to tribal interests. If within this niche practice I confront boundaries I am not comfortable with, I can always choose to leave. But, if I bear in mind that being at a law/lobbying firm is only temporary and the training I’m getting from a firm will ultimately help me reach the next step in my career, it seems reasonable to keep my head down and carry on. For such an experience will only deepen my conceptualization of the type of lawyer I wish not to be.

Particular qualities and habits I hope to not possess as a lawyer or lobbyist include: being demeaning or disrespectful toward clients as if I know better than they, especially if they are tribal leaders; being comfortable compromising my client’s or my own principles in exchange for money or false integrity; becoming reliant on short-sighted and close-minded solutions; becoming beholden to the golden handcuffs; and fulfilling a dispensable role.

The satisfactions I anticipate that will come with being a lawyer or lobbyist are: upward mobility for myself and my family members given that I will be the first lawyer in both my mother’s and father’s families; possession of a skill set that can be used to help others; financial security; being a role model to my nieces and nephews; perpetually working to solve complex problems that go beyond myself.

For now, I have my goals set on eventually running to serve as the first female governor of the Chickasaw Nation. I would also settle for Lieutenant Governor and a Justice on our tribal Supreme Court. These more than likely will be positions I pursue toward the very end of my career.

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r3 - 31 May 2018 - 22:12:28 - MariHulbutta
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