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First Native woman sworn in as U.S. Attorney

Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe, made history on Tuesday when she was sworn in as the U.S. Attorney for Arizona.

Humetewa is the first Native American woman to serve as U.S. Attorney. She was confirmed by the Senate on December 13, having been nominated to the post by President Bush on November 15.

"I am extremely honored to serve in this capacity," Humetewa said after her private swearing-in ceremony in the courtroom of Judge Stephen M. McNamee in Phoenix. "This office prosecutes one of the highest and most diverse case loads in the nation. The staff are exemplary and highly dedicated to the mission of the office."

In her new position, Humetewa joins a small group of Native Americans who have risen to the top ranks of the nation's federal prosecutors. The list includes current National Indian Gaming Commission Chair Phil Hogen, Oglala Sioux, who served as U.S. Attorney for South Dakota; and former NIGC Chair Montie Deer, Muskogee, who was an assistant U.S. Attorney for Kansas.

Like her colleagues, Humetewa comes to the job with a long list of credentials. In Washington, D.C., she worked for the Office of Tribal Justice at the Department of Justice and for Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) during both of his terms as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

"Her sound legal experience and expertise make her well suited to oversee the legal issues in the region," McCain said of his former staffer. Humetewa's time at the committee came as McCain tackled big issues like the Indian trust fund debacle and the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

In Arizona, Humetewa has served under six U.S. Attorneys, starting in the late 1980s through the present. She developed a nationally-recognized victim's advocacy model and has prosecuted a wide range of civil and criminal cases.

Her efforts earned her a national award in 1999 for "Superior Performance by an Assistant U. S. Attorney." In 2001, she was promoted to senior litigation counsel and tribal liaison and has been working closely with Arizona's 21 tribes.

"Her background as a prosecutor, crime-victims advocate, and years of public service made her an outstanding nominee and will serve her well in this important position," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona).

In January, McCain and Kyl began pressing the White House to nominate Humetewa to replace Paul Charlton, who was ousted by the Bush administration in December 2006. Instead, President Bush passed her over and appointed an interim U.S. Attorney as controversy developed over the firings of the federal prosecutors.

Of the eight U.S. Attorneys who were fired, five were from states with significant Indian Country. And all five were prominent members on DOJ's Native American Issues Subcommittee, whose chairman -- former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger -- was targeted for removal because he spent "too much time" on Indian matters, according to political appointees in Washington.

Heffelfinger ended up leaving before the purge. But his successor as chair of the subcommittee was among those who were fired last December.

Of the fired prosecutors, Charlton in particular was noted for his intense focus on reservation crime. "There was no one more committed to crime in Indian Country than Paul," Heffelfinger told Indianz.Com earlier this year.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales eventually resigned after months of criticism for his handling of the controversy.

Humetewa, who is well-respected among Arizona's tribes, faces a big workload when it comes to Indian Country. From July 1, 2006, through June 30, 2007, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona filed 326 cases in Indian Country, assisted 200 Indian victims and prosecuted 30 people in a major methamphetamine ring that affected one reservation.

"While there has been a change of leadership in the U.S. Attorney's Office, what has not changed is the commitment of the individual employees who daily handle criminal and civil matters arising each day in Arizona's Indian Country," then-interim U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Knauss wrote in September.

Indian Country Reports:
2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

Relevant Links:
U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona -