Modern Day Warrior: NARF Attorney Yvonne Knight Retires


“When you go out there to represent Indian people, you see your family your brothers, your sisters, your nephews, your mother and father, your grandparents. You realize the devastating impact that society can have on people because they are a different culture, because their skin is a different color. Being Indian at NARF brings a focus a fire a determination to do the very best. You’’re going to be as good a lawyer as any non-Indian lawyer who ever walked into a court room. This organization is like a warrior society. You put your life on the line be the best you can be always being prepared. Your fighting for the survival of your people…”
-Yvonne Knight (NARF Senior Staff Attorney)
BOULDER, CO-With these words, NARF attorney Yvonne Knight (Ponca-Creek) marked the 20th Anniversary of NARF in 1990. On September 30, 2007, Yvonne said goodbye to NARF as she moved on into retirement after 36 years of fighting for the rights of all of us in Indian country. NARF held a very special retirement dinner for Yvonne where colleagues, former clients, friends and family came to honor the immense legacy she leaves behind in Indian law. Speakers including Ada Deer, Charles Wilkinson, University of Colorado Law Professor and John Echohawk made touching remarks and tributes to this remarkable Modern Day Warrior for Native Rights.
Through this journey, Yvonne has proven to be a modern day Indian warrior, as can be attested to by the countless tribes and individuals that she has guided through the myriad of Indian law, legislation, and court rulings. Yvonne has stood before Congress, federal and state courts, tribes and communities to defend the rights of our people. Yvonne was motivated by the thought that NARF is a warrior society and that she fought these courtroom battles, not for abstract reasons, but for family. This she believed, made Indian attorneys more formidable in court when they’re up against impossible odds. Her victories helped to protect our cultures, our spirituality, our way of life, and helped to determine our future. Yvonne understood the power of our elders visions and transformed them to create leadership and change.
Yvonne is of Ponca-Creek descent and a member of the Ponca Tribe. While in law school, she was a founding member of the American Indian Law Students Association (now the Native American Law Students Association), and served on first board of directors of that organization. Yvonne was the first Indian woman law graduate from the University of New Mexico’’s Indian Law Scholarship Program. She joined NARF as a staff attorney in 1971 and has represented countless tribes and individuals in cases involving a variety of Indian law issues. She served as a member of a task force of the American Indian Policy Review Commission responsible for recommending changes in federal statutes affecting Indians.
Yvonne was actively involved in the passage and implementation of the Menominee Restoration Act. She has also had extensive experience in such areas of Indian law as drafting tribal constitutions; defining and enforcing the federal trust responsibility to Indians; litigating tribal claims to land, water, and other natural resources; enforcing Indian education rights; and, defining and enforcing tribal court jurisdiction.
Yvonne your legacy will be hard to follow, but your inspiration will guide the next generation of Indian attorneys to continue this fight for family, for what is right, and for what it should be. You will be missed.