Yurok Tribal Member Instated into State Bar of California

This is press release from the Yurok Tribe:


Chairman James Dunlap, Chief Judge Abby Abinanti and associate general counsel Cheyenne Sanders pose for a picture after the ceremony. Photo credit: Matt Mais/Yurok Tribe


Yurok Tribal member Cheyenne Sanders, a Cornell University Law School graduate, was instated into the State Bar of California.

“When Cheyenne said that she was taking the California bar exam, I told her that I wanted to be the first one to congratulate her,” said James Dunlap, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “I knew she would pass it on her first try because she excels at everything she does.”

Prior to passing the California bar, Sanders completed the equivalent exam in Washington State and began working for the Tribe in 2014. She is a member of the Yurok Bar and a board member for the California Indian Law Association. Her work includes drafting land purchase agreements, intergovernmental agreements and legal briefs on a variety of topics. She is also a tribal prosecutor in Yurok Tribal Court proceedings.

“When I heard that she was coming back to work for the Tribe, I was really happy,” Chief Judge Abinanti said. “The more I work with Cheyenne, the more I am pleased that she made that decision.”

The quick-minded Yurok women learned that she wanted to be a lawyer at an early age. In high school, Sanders witnessed the catastrophic fish kill on the Klamath River that resulted in 60,000 dead salmon. She watched the Tribe’s attorneys battle to hold the federal government accountable for causing the terrible tragedy, which visited a tremendous amount of agony upon the Yurok, Karuk and Hupa people.

“It was our lawyers who were fighting for our rights and to bring justice to our people,” Sanders said. “That is why I went to law school. I want to serve my Tribe in a meaningful way.”

The attorney is already well on her way to making a positive impact in Indian Country. Now that Sanders completed the bar exam, her new primary focus will be on Indian Child Welfare Act cases, but she will continue her works on developing Tribal ordinances and protecting Tribal lands.

“When Cheyenne was hired we set a goal for her to pass California Bar, which would enable her to represent the Tribe in state court,” said Nathan Voegeli, General Counsel for the Yurok Tribe. “Judging by her work in the Tribal courtroom, I am sure she will do a fantastic job.”

Sanders was born and raised in Kirkland, WA. Each summer, her family would take trips to Klamath for the start of salmon fishing season.

“Since the third grade, I missed the first month of school to go fishing and spend time with my family in Klamath,” Sanders said.

After high school, Sanders moved from Kirkland to attend college at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she double-majored in political science and American Indian Studies. After graduating with honors from UW, she interned with two US senators, the National Science Foundation and for a private law firm, where she worked on federal Indian law cases. After receiving an acceptance letter from Cornell University, she moved to Ithaca, New York to pursue a juris doctorate.

Fresh out of the Ivy League law school, Sanders started working for a Washington DC-based non-profit, which advocated on behalf of the 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States.

One week into the job, Sanders received a call from the Yurok Tribe’s Human Resources Department, asking her if she would like to work of the Office of the Tribal Attorney, which is the place she always wanted to wind up.

“I immediately accepted the job. I didn’t even have to think about. I packed up and started working for the Tribe a week later because this is where I always wanted to be,” Sanders concluded.



  • Wow, that’s a hella resume. Congratulations, Cheyenne! Give ’em heck!

    Deanna Beeler, J.D. ’75
    Boalt Hall School of Law
    U.C. Berkeley

  • Congratulations!

  • It great to hear about the successes coming from the local tribes. What’s even better is that more often than not, they stay local and make a difference.

  • Cornell’s a fine school but ridiculously priced, like Stanford. It’s nice in Ithaca, NY, where Cornell is, but the winter sucks beyond belief! Summer is the season there, and if you go make sure and hit THE Moosewood Restaurant.

  • I always saw Cheyenne as a lawyer or journalist(frankly I wish she chose this because she is one of a kind and needed in this field). When she was very young we watched recorded shows of Paper Chase and I’ll fly away (lawyer based shows) and had great discussions on women’s rights, civil rights, mental health ….all bias and so much more, such an inquisitive and clear mind as a child.
    She is amazing and you are so blessed to have her there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *