News & Publications

Native American Heritage Month - Roshanna K. Toya / Shandiin Herrera / Nora Whippi

Posted by April E. Olson | Nov 28, 2023

Rothstein Donatelli has a long history of advocating for the rights of individuals and the sovereignty of Indian tribes. We are proud of our work on behalf of tribal nations across the country and equally proud of the Native American attorneys and administrative staff that daily support our work. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we are pleased to introduce you to members of our team.


Roshanna K. Toya; enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta

What motivated you to pursue work in the legal field/as an attorney?    I had childhood dreams of becoming an attorney. No one in my family was an attorney but one of my childhood best friends and I used to dream about becoming an attorney. I don't think we really understood what it meant, but it was still our dream. My friend passed away when we were sophomores in high school. I had forgotten about that childhood dream and went on to college, receiving a master's degree in both criminal justice and social work. Many years later, (after being appointed to serve as a justice of the appellate court of my tribe), I decided to pursue a legal education. When I was studying for the bar exam (the second time – and feeling defeated), I was wasting time digging around in my desk. I found an old high school letter I wrote to my best friend's mom.  In that letter I promised her I would go to law school for both of us. It was 20 years later that I was reminded that becoming an attorney was something my younger self dreamed of. I became an attorney later in life in order to support the best interests of tribes and tribal people, especially my own Pueblo.

What is the best part of your job at Rothstein/in the legal field?    I love working at Rothstein Donatelli because of the diversity of the work.  I practice criminal law, civil law, and Indian law.  I appear before tribal courts, state courts, and federal courts. Rothstein Donatelli has allowed me to continue serving my own Pueblo – as now the Chief Justice of the Appellate Court – because they understand the importance of service to tribal communities by tribal people.

What type of fulfillment do you get from working as an attorney/in this field/at this firm?    Seeing clients' lives change when they have an attorney to advocate for their interests, especially when we get a favorable outcome. As a social worker at heart, I love our client-centered approach to working with our clients.

What is it like to be a Native American lawyer/in the legal field?    Working as a Native American attorney has its highs and lows.  Sometimes it is difficult to look around in various legal settings and not see other attorneys who look like or have backgrounds and experiences like I do or understand the different cultural worldviews. Oftentimes, that makes me second guess myself.  I've had to work to be intentional about filtering my thoughts through positive affirmations, but I've learned that I must be intentional about this.  There still are not that many Native American attorneys in practice, though in the Southwest I think we are exceptionally lucky to look around and see many great Native American attorneys. Native American attorneys are not often the type of person sitting across from you as opposing counsel, nor are they the person in the judicial role. I know we are working to change this disproportionate representation, but it is still one of the challenging things.

On the other hand, it brings me great pride to be a Native American attorney, specifically a Pueblo woman attorney.  I know there are people in my tribal community who look up to me as a role model, and certainly my own three kids do, so being able to be a positive role model for other Native Americans brings me great pride. I also want to see who I can help to raise up by sharing my own successes and failures I had along the way.  In my mind, that is one of the most important things to do when reaching success at this level.

Why is Native American Heritage Month important?    Native American Heritage Month is important because it brings awareness to those around us. It is a time for us to express our pride in who we are and to educate people around us about values that may be different and important to us.

How do you like to stay connected with your culture?    I stay connected with my culture by residing and working in my Pueblo community. My husband Michael Toya, Jr. (Jemez Pueblo) and I are raising our children to be an active part of our Pueblo communities. We participate in traditional activities that occur throughout the year and teach them the importance of participating (even when it means sacrificing) to keep our customs and traditions alive. This is so important to us because we want them (and us) to walk through the two worlds knowing who they are and where they come from.

Shandiin Herrera; Navajo Nation

What motivated you to pursue work in the legal field/as an attorney?    I grew up attending local chapter meetings with my mother in the community of Oljato on the Navajo Nation. While other kids played outside, I sat with my mother and found the issues discussed so interesting. Our community had a plethora of challenges and I left each meeting with so many questions! I desperately wanted to understand my community so I could figure out how to help us. As one of the more rural areas on the Navajo Nation, it was common to lack running potable water in our homes, lose signal as soon as you drove past the buttes, and carpool to the nearest border town to grocery shop. But, as I grew older and began to explore life outside of Oljato I realized the stark differences in lifestyles, largely around access and amenities. When I asked my local chapter officials why we did not have certain things or why our lifestyle seemed more difficult than my peers living in cities, I noticed a common response. Each response guided me to take my education seriously so I could gain a seat at the table where decisions were made about my community. Because so many stakeholders were involved in my little community -- tribe, state, and federal -- everyone told me I should be a lawyer so I could advocate for us. 

My childhood was a combination of love and culture, but also motivation to use whatever tools I could garner to contribute to the health and survival of my community. Deciding to become a lawyer meant accessing a tool that was long used against my people, and now being able to use this tool to shield my people – to advocate and to protect. My grandmother referred to lawyers as our modern-day warriors. In her memory, I am proud to be on this journey of becoming the first attorney in my family.

What is the best part of your job at Rothstein/in the legal field?    I was so fortunate to spend my 1L summer with Rothstein Donatelli and continue to work throughout my 2L year. I enjoy working with this firm because not only does the Tempe office exclusively work on Indian Law, but every attorney and staff member is passionate about the role they play in protecting tribal sovereignty. Indian Law is so complex and ever-changing. It is exciting that I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects while benefiting from great mentorship from experienced attorneys. I learn something new every day and that is my favorite aspect of this work!

What type of fulfillment do you get from working as an attorney/in this field/at this firm?    As a Navajo woman, I have so much pride in my ability to help others, and in my own small way, to be a source of comfort. As I navigate through law school and work at the firm, I am empowered by knowing I can be the person to learn the complexity of the law and use my skills to benefit our clients. Solving issues and bringing people together bring me fulfillment and I am happy that is a common sentiment at Rothstein Donatelli. 

What is it like to be a Native American lawyer/in the legal field?    The truth is it can be very lonely to be a Native woman in the legal field. I have dealt with imposter syndrome at every level of my education. It can also be challenging because many of the legal issues and projects have a deeper meaning to me. It is an interesting experience to combine my identity and culture with my career. There is always something at stake in the legal field, and that is even more true in Indian Law. However, I am grateful for the Native attorney mentors I have found along the way. As I continue to grow, my goal is to not only be a strong advocate for Indian Country, but to be a great mentor to those coming up this ladder behind me.

Why is Native American Heritage Month important?    It is important to celebrate the beauty and resilience of our nations! There is a sense of joy that accompanies being able to publicly show the world who we are as Native people. This month is about sharing culture, knowledge, and language as much as it is about honoring and remembering the history and acknowledging the current realities of Native nations.

How do you like to stay connected with your culture?    I stay connected with my culture by attending cultural events when I am home on the Navajo Nation. I also try to learn a new Navajo word each day and read about our traditional teachings.

Nora Whippi; Navajo Nation

What motivated you to pursue work in the legal field?    I did not expect to be in this field. It just so happened that as a part of my job as a word processor, I was sent to work at a construction law firm. After 10 years there I moved on to a product liability law firm for a few years before joining Rothstein Donatelli. I find this work to be very interesting and I enjoy my role! 

What is the best part of your job at Rothstein/in the legal field?    My favorite part of working here is the opportunity to serve as an assistant to the partners and attorneys. I also enjoy maintaining our ICWA files and keeping everything organized. This job can be busy and I really enjoy the fast-paced environment.

What type of fulfillment do you get from working in this field/at this firm?    I enjoy the work that supports ICWA, gaming laws, etc., because it all helps tribal communities. It feels good to meet a deadline or to see a favorable outcome of a case where a Native child is protected. This work is impactful, and I feel lucky to be a part of this important work.

What is it like to be a Native American in the legal field?    I do not know a lot of Native professionals in this field whether they are paralegals or attorneys. To me, it is important to have representation. When I share with people that I am in this field they are often surprised because they maintain preconceived notions that Native people may not belong in these spaces. It is important to show that there are successful Native people. I am proud to be in this position.

Why is Native American Heritage Month important?    It is important to acknowledge Native cultures. This includes all tribes because we are all different and beautiful in our own ways. It is nice that we have an entire month to learn, educate, and finally be recognized in environments where we were not before. I know I learn a lot about other tribes.

How do you like to stay connected with your culture?    I like to attend cultural events and partake in pow wows and gourd dances. I try to surround myself with these kinds of activities to stay connected even though I don't get the chance to travel home to the Navajo Nation as much these days.

About the Author

April E. Olson

Partner - Tempe Office