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William Mitchell law professor Sarah Deer to receive ABA 2016 Spirit of Excellence Award


WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2015 — The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession will honor Sarah Deer, a professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minn ., with its 2016 Spirit of Excellence Award for her commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession. The award will be presented during a luncheon ceremony on Feb. 6, 2016, at the ABA Midyear Meeting in San Diego, Calif.

The Spirit of Excellence Award celebrates the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession. Awards are presented to lawyers who excel in their professional settings; who personify excellence on the national, state, or local level; and who have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession.

“Professor Deer is one of America’s pre-eminent scholars on Native American rights,” Section Chair Will Gunn said. “I echo the words of Linda Benally, president of the National Native American Bar Association, who says that ‘Professor Deer’s contribution to the field of federal Indian law, tribal law and the legal profession at large, reflects the high caliber of legal sophistication and service that embodies the ABA’s Spirit of Excellence Award.’”

Deer, who joined the faculty of William Mitchell College of Law in July 2008, is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and a 2014 MacArthur Fellow. She serves as a Justice for the Prairie Island Indian Community Court of Appeals and an appellate judge for the White Earth Nation Court of Appeals.

At William Mitchell, Deer’s scholarship focuses on the intersection of tribal law and victims’ rights. She first worked to address violence against women when she was an undergraduate in 1993. She volunteered as a rape crisis advocate while working toward her B.A. degree in Women’s Studies and Philosophy from the University of Kansas. She later attended law school so she could address the unique legal issues facing Native American rape survivors, and received her J.D. with a Tribal Lawyer Certificate from the University of Kansas School of Law.

In addition to authoring several articles on the issues facing Native American women in the United States, Deer is a co-author of three textbooks on tribal law. Her forthcoming book is entitled “The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America (2015).”

She is the recipient of the 2010 Sheila Wellstone Award. In April 2011, Deer received the Allied Professional Award from the U.S. Department of Justice for work on victims’ issues. In September 2014, she was named a MacArthur Fellow. She has been quoted in The New York Times and The Guardian. She has also been a guest on NPR, Al Jazeera and MSNBC.

The mission of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession is to promote racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. The commission serves as a catalyst for change, so that the profession may more accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of society and better serve society. The commission promotes the recruitment, hiring, promotion and advancement of attorneys of color and works to ensure equal membership and employment opportunities for diverse lawyers in the ABA. The commission accomplishes all this through many initiatives, activities and programs, including the annual Spirit of Excellence Award.

With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.


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