Maymangwa Miranda '06
Community Is Crucial
She speaks of Native American communities where she grew up, the communities in Minneapolis where she earned a degree in interdisciplinary studies at the University of Minnesota, and the communities of Cornell and Ithaca. Ms. Miranda sees law as a way of developing, helping, and empowering communities.
Raised by her mother and grand - mother, Ms. Miranda grew up in Mobridge, South Dakota, on the Standing Rock Reservation that straddles South and North Dakota. "I am affiliated with the Standing Rock Lakota and White Earth Ojibwe from Northern Minnesota," she explains. "I am a citizen of the Gila River Indian Community in Southern Arizona."
After attending a predominantly white school in Mobridge, Ms. Miranda transferred to an all-Native American high school. "I think I might be one of four students who went on to college, so it was a pretty big deal," she recalls. Indeed, Ms. Miranda was accepted at Harvard, but didn't want to move away. "Indians often don't go to college because they don't want to leave their home communities," she explains. In fact, her grandmother, Patricia Locke, helped establish tribally-operated colleges on reservations to serve that need. "She was an advocate for Indian rights, particularly advocating for Indian education issues and indigenous language preservation," says Ms. Miranda. "She encouraged me to go to law school." Ms. Miranda notes that her grandmother will be posthumously inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame this October, alongside such notables as Hillary Rodham Clinton
At the University of Minnesota, Ms. Miranda found "plenty of opportunities to engage in student organization and connect with the community. I worked on mobilizing Native students in the higher education system, and bridging the gap between the university and the impoverished neighboring communities." Her community connections led to an internship, and then a job, at the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. When her grandmother died in 2001, Ms. Miranda and her new husband, Innael Miranda, a Chicano with migrant worker roots, decided to spend some time at her home. While there, they organized a field office on the reservation for the South Dakota Democratic Party, registering and educating American Indian voters.
Now it was time for the next step. "I knew from a very young age I wanted to go to law school," says Ms. Miranda, "even before I really knew what a lawyer was." Before coming to Cornell, she attended the Pre-Law Summer Institute at the American Indian Law Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, joining forty other Native American students in an eight-week intensive program. "It was an incredible experience," she recalls. "I met students from diverse tribal backgrounds who planned to attend law schools throughout the country."
Ms. Miranda wanted to go to a prestigious law school, and chose Cornell because of the strong Native American programs for undergraduates, and the rural surroundings. As one of a sprinkling of students from the western states, and the only Native American, the first year was tough. "The challenge was not only academic, but emotional," she admits.
Things got better in the second semester, and improved even more in her second year. Ms. Miranda attended a Federal Bar Association conference on Federal Indian Law, where she was elected to serve as an area representative for the National Native American Law Students Association. She worked in the Women in Law Clinic, serving women affected by domestic violence or abuse. "I was glad to know that I was contributing to this community," she says. She was an Honors Fellow in the Cornell Lawyering Program, serving as a teaching assistant to Joel Atlas for a first year writing class. At the end of that year, Ms. Miranda received the Honorable G. Joseph Tauro Dean's Prize for the most improvement between first and second year.
This past summer, Ms. Miranda clerked at Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson and Perry, LLP, a firm that represents tribal interests exclusively. "It was exactly the work I want to do," Ms. Miranda says. "I found it so gratifying that my work was directly serving tribal clients. I'm thankful for that experience."
As the president of the National Native American Law Students Association (NNALSA) and managing editor of the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy (JLPP), Ms. Miranda looks forward to a busy year. Her duties as NNALSA president include organizing a job fair, a national moot court competition, and developing other programs to support Native American law students. "This organization plays an important role for Indian law students. There are so few Indians in law school, especially in top tier law schools. I'm happy and excited to work within an organization that supports them." In her role as JLPP managing editor, Ms. Miranda will have the opportunity to work with several authors throughout the year. Her enthusiasm for writing stems from her creative writing interests. "Had I not been a law student, I would have been a writer," she explains. "When I entered law school, I reluctantly set aside writing poetry and performing in open mic poetry readings."
After graduation, Ms. Miranda plans to work in Washington, D.C., as an advocate for Native American issues of national importance. "There are so few Indian attorneys, and so many issues that affect our communities, certain issues are often not represented," Ms. Miranda explains.
Ultimately, she wants to move back west to offer direct legal services for the Indian community. Her husband wants to use international economic development models to aid disadvantaged rural communities. It will be a powerful combination. Wherever they choose to live, the community they serve will be central to their lives.
-- Judith Pratt