By Shayna Mace | Photo courtesy Samantha Skenandore
Samantha Skenandore loved her first job out of college. Based in Black River Falls, she was a tribal archivist for the Ho-Chunk Nation, which she’s enrolled in as a citizen. Skenandore digitized tribal records; interviewed elders about sacred sites, traditions and customs; recorded oral histories; and collected donations of artifacts. It was a fascinating job, she says.
“I got paid to learn about my tribe full time, and go to the historical society and thumb through all kinds of maps and records … I got to understand genealogy and how we were treated by the government. And for years, I had the privilege to sit with the elders and ask a handful of questions.”
Skenandore had never thought about going to law school, but after she helped the tribe with a complicated situation involving a corporation entering Wisconsin and attempting to acquire Ho-Chunk ancestral lands for their natural resource extraction operations, it piqued her interest in law.
“[After that], I signed up for the LSAT and thought, ‘If I could do this full time, I could do a better job protecting this land if I had a law license and I could negotiate for preservation,’” she says.
Skenandore searched for a law school with a focus on federal Indian law and tribal law professors, and landed on the University of Denver. She practices law in Arizona, Wisconsin and several tribal jurisdictions, and is presently an attorney of. counsel at the firm of Quarles & Brady LLP.
Her specialty area can be complicated, she admits. She practices tribal law, as governed by tribal governments and upheld by tribal courts. She also works in federal Indian law, which can be difficult to navigate due to jurisdictional questions.
“[Federal Indian law] is a complex area of the law because it involves how you study jurisdiction on land, who has authority, who has rights and who doesn’t. It’s really … multi-jurisdictional analysis, [with] tribal authorities versus the state authorities versus the federal government.”
Skenandore, who is half Ho-Chunk and of Oneida descent, also squeezes in pro bono work when she can for domestic violence survivors in and outside of Indian country, including representing tribal member victims in state court.
“With my practice, most of my clients are diverse. What I love is that we have people [at Quarles] that may have never touched a tribal matter, but they’re top-notch in a particular legal area. I handle the Indian law portion … and together we’re delivering great results for our clients.”