Diversity In Law Profile, Vanessa Minteer

By Melissa Stewart

Vanessa Minteer, an attorney for Rosette, LLP, believes in justice and cultural rights. She decided to become an attorney while studying anthropology and learning about protection and promotion of Native American cultural resources and the effectiveness of federal legislation.

Her fascination with Native American culture led her to study at Arizona State University law school and focus on federal Indian law and cultural resources law. To her, becoming an attorney was a way to fight the injustices tribes are faced with every day.

“I think the most rewarding aspect of practicing law is giving a voice to those who need one,” she said. “Many times, those individuals (and, in my case, tribes) who confront injustice lack a voice in the legal process. For me, providing that voice on behalf of my clients’ rights and entitlements is what brings meaning to my legal practice.”

After graduating law school and passing the Arizona bar in 2008, Minteer decided to get an LL.M. in tribal law, government and policy at ASU. This allowed her to focus solely on representing tribes.

“I began practicing at Rosette, LLP, a private firm that only represents Indian tribes and their related boards and enterprises,” she said. “I have been in private practice with the firm for a number of years and I’ve really enjoyed my practice there because it allows me to focus all of my time, energy and effort in assisting my tribal clients with their various transactional and litigation needs.”

Being the voice for the voiceless is no easy task. The field of Indian law presents a very distinctive set of challenges, mainly due to the federal government’s complicated history and policy toward Native Americans, she said. Because of the long and complex history of case law and restrictions set forth by federal courts, Minteer has to get creative with her cases.

“It is important to adopt an innovative approach to cases, especially given the restrictions courts have set down related to tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction,” she said. “The challenge is to view the legal landscape in a way that enables you to see the opportunities presented by Indian law, not the many limitations. If you can do this, you can find productive legal solutions for your clients.”

Even though Minteer has been a champion for tribal rights and has provided legal counsel solely to Native Americans from the start of her career, she herself is not a Native American.

“My situation is somewhat unique in that I set out to practice in a field that is increasing dominated by Native American attorneys, which I believe is a very good thing, especially as tribes build capacity internally among their tribal membership to address the needs of their people,” she said. “I, however, am not Native American and as a non-Native woman practicing in this area I could easily have felt excluded by the legal community—and even by the clients themselves.”

But Minteer has never felt out of place or unwelcome in her work. She believes that her staunch dedication to representing tribes has brought her the respect of the community and her clients.

“The amazing individuals with whom I have had the opportunity to practice and the Native communities that I represent have been nothing but welcoming,” she said. “I like to think that this is due to their recognition of my genuine passion, complete dedication and comprehensive knowledge of the field.”