Putting the Yurok Tribe First; Judge Abinanti Reflects on Her Career
In 1974, Yurok tribal member Abby Abinanti became the first Native American woman to be admitted to the State Bar of California. Over the next 40 years, she served as a San Francisco Superior Court commissioner, acted as judge or magistrate for several Western tribes, and established the Yurok Tribe’s fishing court. Today, she is the tribal court’s chief justice.
It’s been an auspicious career for a woman who, as a youngster, never dreamed of donning a judge’s robe. Born in San Francisco in 1947 and raised on the Yurok Indian Reservation, which lies 45 miles from the Pacific Coast along California’s Klamath River, Abinanti originally wanted to be a journalist.
“I developed that interest in high school,” reflected Abinanti, 66. “The journalism teacher befriended me and worked with me during a difficult time in my life, and he gave me a scholarship.” With a laugh, she added, “I think he sort of made it up so he could give it to me.”
While Abinanti was studying journalism at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, she came across a flyer for the University of New Mexico School of Law. The flier addressed programming specifically for Native American students.
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