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Chief Judge Maldonado of Petoskey worked to bring Michigan in compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act, which protects children from being removed from their homes under federal and state Indian removal policies. Dale G. Young, The Detroit News

The chief judge of the Little Traverse Bay Bands Tribal Court works tirelessly to bring state into compliance with Indian Child Welfare Act

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The only lawyers Allie Greenleaf Maldonado saw while growing up were on television or in the movies. Years later in college, a professor challenged her to consider the unthinkable: become a judge.

“Quietly, secretly, I dared to dream of one day becoming a judge,” she said.

But doubt crept in.

“I did not know of anyone who looked like me on the bench. Furthermore, I understood how being connected to the right people impacted your career. My family and I were not connected to anyone in power.”

That did not matter.

Maldonado graduated in the top third of her class from the University of Michigan Law School.

Maldonado now is the chief judge for the 4,566 citizens of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Petoskey. She is a citizen of the tribe and a member of the Turtle Clan. She was appointed the Chief Judge of the LTBB Tribal Court in 2012.

After getting her undergraduate degree from the City University of New York and Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School, Maldonado was selected through the Honors Program at the U.S. Department of Justice to be a litigator in the Indian Resources Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division in Washington.

In September 2002, Maldonado returned to Michigan to serve as assistant general counsel for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, a position she held until her appointment as Chief Judge of the Tribal Court.

But it is her tireless work to bring the state into compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act that earned her the Unsung Hero Award by the Michigan State Bar. Maldonado successfully litigated the first case in which the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the termination of parental rights due to a failure by the state to follow ICWA.

“The ICWA is a federal law passed in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes under federal and state Indian removal policies,” said Maldonado, 46. “Yet there are still areas of the country today where ICWA is ignored or misapplied. Michigan used to be one of those states. I went to law school because I wanted to keep what happened to my family from happening to other Native families.”

She credits her tribe for making it possible to achieve the successes with the ICWA.

“Without their unwavering support, I could not have focused on child welfare issues,” she said.

For the judge, those child welfare issues are personal.

Her grandmother, Lou Ella Bush, and all of her great-uncles fell victim to the practice of removing Native American children from their homes and placing them in a boarding school. Her mother, Donna Lou Chapman, also was removed from her home after her mother died when Chapman still was a child.

“My mother could have been placed with a dozen different appropriate relatives,” Maldonado said. “Instead, she was sent to live as a domestic worker for a Mennonite minister and his wife. This was a common practice before the Indian Child Welfare Act.”

Allie Greenleaf Maldonado

Age: 46

Occupation: Chief judge for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

Education: Bachelor’s degree, City University of New York; Juris Doctorate, University of Michigan Law School

Family: Husband, Jay Maldonado; two daughters

Why honored: Litigated the first case in which the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the termination of parental rights due to a failure by the state to follow ICWA

Other Michiganians:Odis Bellinger | Debbie Dingell | Shell Jones | Kary L. Moss | Stephen R. Polk | Matthew Simoncini | Fred Upton | Mark Wallace

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