Diandra Benally, '05 alumna
Diandra Day Benally, a 2005 alumna of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, has received the Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year Award for 2007 from the State Bar of New Mexico.
Benally, a staff attorney with the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, was nominated by Donovan D. Brown Sr., an assistant attorney general in the human services and government unit, and Anslem Roanhorse Jr., executive director of the Navajo Division of Health.
In his nomination letter, Roanhorse said Benally, 29, has assisted with many health-care initiatives, including the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Navajo Special Diabetes for Indian programs, Medicaid and Medicare reform and the Emergency Preparedness Program.
“She is the epitome of professionalism on the Navajo Nation,” he wrote. “She has demonstrated the highest degree of ethical standards and exemplifies outstanding commitment to her legal profession. Moreover, she is a highly respected professional who quickly gains the confidence and trust of everyone with whom she comes in contact.”
Brown noted Benally is an adjunct professor at the Diné College in Window Rock, where she teaches a course on the U.S. and Arizona constitutions and mentors students interested in becoming attorneys and other legal professionals.
“Ms. Benally is a role model and leader for her community,” he wrote. “She is not only one committed to her career as an attorney, but also dedicated to giving back to her Navajo people. She is a person with a kind heart, open mind and passion for the work that she does and for the people she serves and represents.”
Rebecca Tsosie, executive director of the Indian Legal Program and a professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said Benally is a deserving recipient of the Bar award. Early in law school she expressed a desire to return to the Navajo Nation after graduation to work, Tsosie recalled.
“Diandra was one of those rare students who possessed a combination of outstanding academic skills and a true commitment to serving the legal needs of Native communities,” she said. “We are so proud of the complex and challenging work that Diandra has done on behalf of the Navajo Nation. She has also remained very involved with the Indian Legal Program, and she is an inspiration and a mentor for our newest students and ILP graduates. Diandra has already contributed a great deal to the legal profession, and it is wonderful to see her receive this honor.”
Benally, from Shiprock, N.M., became interested in the law while in grade school when she learned about potential health and environmental hazards that nearby uranium mines posed for her community and its people. She graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in Native American Studies, has a Master of Studies in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School and earned her J.D. and certificate in Indian Law from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
Benally said her parents and grandparents inspired her dedication to help people not only in her immediate family, but in the larger community. She plans to pass that along.
“I hope that anyone I meet I can mentor or support,” Benally said. “A professor once told me that the one thing you need to do in your life is mentor one student to the point where they can be in a place in their life to mentor another person.”
The practical experience she gained from working in the College’s Indian Legal Clinic, as well as the educational and research opportunities she received from Tsosie and other professors has helped her become the lawyer she is today, Benally said. Her Bar award is not hers alone, she said.
“It’s an award I share with the many, many people who supported me through my college and legal education and now the beginning of my legal career,” she said.