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Alum Proud to Give Back to Native American Community

Devon Lomayesva

As a member of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, Devon L. Lomayesva ’99, Chief Judge of the Intertribal Court of Southern California, and a practicing Indian law attorney is passionate about giving back to her community.

“The Native American community still suffers from the effects of historical mistreatment,” says Lomayesva. “That is proven out in the high rates of substance abuse, suicide, drop-out rates, single parents, and high rates of juvenile delinquency and foster care placements.”

Lomayesva’s passion for giving back to her tribal community started when she became involved with Native American student groups as an undergraduate at Grossmont Jr. College and San Diego State University (SDSU), where she graduated with a BA in History. This passion was further enhanced at California Western, as Lomayesva explains, “I’ve always appreciated the fact that California Western encouraged clerkships and volunteering. Dean Linda Dews and former Director of Minority Affairs Carol Rogers were great advocates and always there to offer resources for the development of our student life and careers.”

During her time at California Western, Lomayesva discovered California Indian Legal Services (CIL), a nonprofit Indian legal services organization in Escondido that offered her a clerkship in her third year of law school. “I stayed with them until I was offered a Legal Fellow position immediately after I graduated,” she says.

She subsequently worked for CILS for nine years ultimately becoming their statewide Executive Director. She left to become a tribal attorney for the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians and subsequently formed her own firm.

As well as running her firm and serving as Chief Judge at the Intertribal Court of Southern California, Lomayesva remains a tribal attorney for Soboba and her tribe and teaches Indian law and other Native American courses at SDSU.

“The highlight of balancing all these different avenues has been the ability to give back to my community in so many different ways,” says Lomayesva.

An area that is particularly close to her heart is child welfare. Lomayesva practices in state dependency court which implicates the Indian Child Welfare Act when Native American children are involved.

“State law does pertain to some tribes in certain circumstances,” she says. “For example, California has codified the majority of the Indian Child Welfare Act and is implementing regulations into the Welfare and Institutions Code. So California dependency courts are required to follow specific provisions for Native American children in the foster care system and to an extent, the delinquency system.”

Numerous other federal laws apply to Indian tribes that she practices under, including the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Indian Civil Rights Act, and others.

“Tribal law deals with individual tribes,” she explains. “Tribes have the ability to make their laws and right now is an exciting time because tribes are exercising more self-governance, especially in the area of dispute resolution. So it is exciting to be writing tribal laws where disputes are going to be heard in tribal courts.”

Next to law, Native American education is also a passion of Lomayesva’s and she is in the midst of developing a healing to wellness youth court which aims to tackle juvenile delinquency issues and ensure that specific provisions for Native American children in foster care are followed.

“This program will serve our local tribes and hopefully expand out to all Native American youth in San Diego County and possibly Riverside County,” she says.

Her involvement with Native American youth continues through her pro-bono work as a volunteer board member for the American Indian Recruitment Program (AIR) which she founded with her husband while they were students at SDSU.

“The AIR program was created to address the lack of Native American participation within higher education and to promote higher education among our student participants,” says Lomayesva. “The program just celebrated its 25th-anniversary last year—we are still running it with our fellow board members and have seen over 1,500 Native American youth go through the program.”

Lomayesva would love to see California Western offer federal Indian law again and advises current Cal Western students not to underestimate the value of volunteering.

“Volunteering is vital to many nonprofits' success, and it teaches you a lot about giving back to the community where you live,” she says.