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"In his memoir, Alvin Ziontz reflects on his more than thirty years representing Indian tribes, from a time when Indian law was little known through landmark battles that upheld tribal sovereignty. He discusses the growth and maturation of tribal government and the underlying tensions between Indian society and the non-Indian world. A Lawyer in Indian Country presents vignettes of reservation life and recounts some of the memorable legal cases that illustrate the challenges faced by individual Indians and tribes." "As the senior attorney arguing U.S. v. Washington, Ziontz was a party to the historic 1974 Boldt decision that affirmed the Pacific Northwest tribes' treaty fishing rights, with ramifications for tribal rights nationwide. His work took him to reservations in Montana, Wyoming, and Minnesota, as well as Washington and Alaska, and he describes not only the work of a tribal attorney but also his personal entry into the life of Indian country." Ziontz continued to fight for tribal rights into the late 1990s, as the Makah tribe of Washington sought to resume its traditional whale hunts. Throughout his book, Ziontz traces his own path through this public history - one man's pursuit of a life built around the principles of integrity and justice.
A Lawyer in Indian Country - A Memoir by Alvin J Ziontz is much more than a memoir. This book is revelatory. The author, as a young attorney entering the life of a lawyer in Seattle in the mid '50's, found himself drawn into a David and Goliath battle that ultimately changed the status of Native Americans in the United States, and made critical law in the United States Supreme Court. While a similar battle was being waged at the same time on behalf of African Americans in the South, this fight for Native American rights had little notice, little to no funding, and involved in opposition the almost insurmountable efforts and resources of the Attorney General of the State of Washington who had demonstrated, to quote Justice Stevens, " the most concerted official and private efforts to frustrate a decree of a federal court witnessed in the century."
In a most engaging fashion, Ziontz describes his decision to move to the Pacific Northwest to establish a law practice, his early years of apprenticeship, how he found law partners, and his unusual meeting with the Makah tribe - out on the furthest tip of Continental America. Part of the fascination of this story is how a person would possibly find himself in such a situation, why he would remain, and what he would have to do, step by step to wage this lonely and Herculean battle with so little.
Beyond the heroic legal battles, however, this is a story full of human interest, conflict, and humor. His Russian-Jewish background, early years in Chicago, romance with his future wife and his time as a family man, his Army stint, and attendance at the University of Chicago Law School are recounted with humor and charm. The momentous matters he encounters later are so compellingly explained that even a layperson can understand their significance. This book provides insight into the legal relationship between the United States government and the tribes of Native Americans and why we should even care in the first place. It is full of local color and amusing detail. It is, in every sense, a Story.
By the book's conclusion, I felt breathless. What a close call for the United States - for who we believe we are and what we represent! What a victory for the individual spirit! This is a story of one man, without money and only his wits, determination, and sense of fairness to fall back on. His fortune was his unfailingly supportive wife, the brilliant partners whom he had found to join him, and his own willingness to learn and work tirelessly for small reward. His immigrant background must have sealed Ziontz's commitment to this battle for the soul of this country.
A Lawyer in Indian Country is the most significant and timely book I have read in a long time. It is skillfully crafted and a pleasure to read. This is an important book. This is a story you will not forget.
Posted January 17, 2010
These memoirs of Alvin Ziontz read like a storyboard for a great documentary film. They provide an insight into the laws which govern water and hunting rights for the native American peoples. They provide an insight into the persons, both in and out of national and state governments, who fought for or against the rights of the sovereign Indian nations. There are heroes and villains aplenty and Ziontz makes it very clear who, in the companies and governments concerned play these roles for greed and power and who, in those same agencies, represent this country, The United States of American, as a bulwark of fainess and ethical treatment before the Law.
A reading of this book makes you greatly aware of the continuing legal actions which involve the rights of govering Indian Peoples whose land and tribal rights were often abused in the past history of this nation and which are still involved in continuing legal battles were water and hunting rights are concerned.
Personal integrity and a sense of what was an ethical position were the professional benchmarks in the career of Alvin Ziontz as the lawyer for the American Indian tribes his law office represented during his career.
I sincerely recommend this book to any reader that seeks to understand the why and how ethical positions can lead the way to victory in legal battles.