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Senate Appoints Diane Humetewa as First Female Native American Federal Judge in Unanimous Vote

First Posted: May 15, 2014 06:30 PM EDT

On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Diane Humetewa as a new federal judge, making her the first Native American woman to hold the position and the third Native American federal judge in U.S. history.

Humetewa, a 49-year-old citizen of the Hopi Tribe, was also the first Native American to become instated as a U.S. attorney for Arizona back in 2007, notes Phoenix New Times.

In an unanimous vote, the Senate confirmed Humetewa to become a judge for the U.S. District Court for Arizona. She was nominated by President Obama for the position last year after she was forced to step down from her U.S. attorney position in 2009.

In response to Humetewa's confirmation, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) lauded the Senate in a statement saying, "NCAI greatly appreciates the efforts of the president and Senate in achieving this historic confirmation. There are many qualified, talented people like Diane Humetewa in Indian country who are able and willing to serve. We eagerly anticipate many more nominations of Native people to the federal bench and other offices," reports Indian Country.

Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the non-profit Justice at Stake organization, also praised the vote, pointing out that the nation as a whole benefits from diversity among judges in federal courts.

"With the confirmation of Judge Humetewa, the Senate has taken an important step toward broadening the makeup of the federal courts," Brandenburg said. "Increasing representation of Native Americans on the federal bench is especially important because federal courts have an outsized authority in defining what's known as federal Indian law. As a result, Native American people and tribal entities appear as parties in federal court proceedings at far higher rates than do non-Native Americans. Given this picture, the current lack of any active federal judges who are Native Americans is absolutely appalling."

Likewise, Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, called Humetewa "an inspiration to Native people, especially Native women across Indian country."

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