Yurok Chief Justice Abby Abinanti and Quechan Chief Justice Claudette White will be featured next month in “Tribal Justice” a new PBS documentary. In 1974, Abinanti became the first Native American woman to be admitted as a member of the State Bar of California, while White is the highest-ranking justice in the tribal courts of the Quechans of Southern California.
The documentary will tell Abinanti’s and White’s stories as they fight, via the justice system, for the preservation of Native American beliefs and traditions. The goal of “Tribal Justice” is to feature the strength of these women leaders as they’ve worked among their people to triumph over various social ills such as prejudice, inequality and poverty. It highlights their values of taking care of each other in their communities and shines a light on tribal courts where indigenous beliefs and traditions have become an integral part of the justice system.
While Justice White admits that their tribe has greatly decreased in number, she reiterates that they’ve never abandoned their desert home, despite the fact that services available to them are limited. She is a champion for the Quechans’ sovereignty and nationhood. White looks to Abinanti as a mentor who has broken the glass ceiling for herself and the other women who will follow in their footsteps.
Both White and Abinanti, as leaders of two of the largest Native American groups in California, have advocated for restoration in their communities, even as they increase the levels of safety within those communities.
“Tribal Justice” is directed by Anne Makepeace, who met the two judges in 2013, and was immediately inspired to show the world the life-changing work they do. Makepeace recognized that showcasing the work of Abinanti and White could contribute much to the justice system.