Ms. Real Bird is Ihanktonwan Nakota and Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. She joined Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP in 2007 and is currently a Senior Associate.
Ms. Real Bird has significant experience representing tribes in a general counsel capacity. In fact, she serves as general counsel to her tribe, the Yankton Sioux Tribe. In this capacity and in the capacity as Senior Associate, she has had the opportunity to negotiate and draft of cooperative law enforcement agreements; review and prepare leases; review and prepare service contracts; and research and prepare legal memoranda on a wide-variety of legal issues including tribal law and governance, corporations, employment law, administrative law, Robert’s Rules of Order, constitutional law, enrollment matters, and election matters; prepare tribal legislation, tribal policy, tribal resolutions, and work on interpretation and enforcement of tribal law; represent clients in litigation involving cases before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals; Federal District Court, State Court, the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, and Tribal Court; prepare pleadings, motions, briefs, affidavits, and appear and argue the same; provide advice on professional responsibility including duties owed to current clients, duties owed to former clients, requirements for third-party billing, duties as former government employees, preservation of the attorney-client relationship; work on off-reservation casino project including fee-to-trust issues; draft pre-development agreements; draft and secure confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements; review scope of work and negotiate terms for a gaming market study and an economic impact study; meet with potential developers and the Bureau of Land Management; and advocate for the project at the county and state level.
Ms. Real Bird’s approach to serving her clients is to listen, be courteous, be respectful, and to always be reverent to tribal customs, history, and solutions.
Ms. Real Bird attended Wagner Community School and finished her high school education in Minnesota graduating from Blaine High School. She attended Stanford University and earned both her Bachelors of Arts in Native American Studies and Masters of Arts in Sociology. She attended the Pre-Law Summer Institute for Native Americans and Alaska Natives at the University of New Mexico Law School in Albuquerque. Ms. Real Bird received her Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Columbia Law School in the City of New York.
Ms. Real Bird is a member of the Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyers Division; Colorado Indian Bar Association; Boulder County Bar Association; American Bar Association; Federal Bar Association; and the National Native American Bar Association.
Ms. Real Bird was recently honored by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development with a Native American 40 Under 40 award that recognizes emerging American Indian leaders from across Indian Country who have demonstrated leadership, initiative, and dedication and made significant contributions in their community. Ms. Real Bird was also recently selected by the American Bar Association to receive the Rosner & Rosner Young Lawyers Professionalism Award that honors a young lawyer’s commitment to legal and judicial ethics, lawyer professionalism, client protection and professional regulation.
She served as a delegate to the American Bar Association Young Lawyer Division General Assembly at the 2014 Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. Ms. Real Bird currently serves on the American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility Diversity Committee.
Ms. Real Bird is a member and admitted to practice by the Colorado State Bar, South Dakota State Bar, U.S. District Courts for the District of Colorado, U.S. District Courts for the District of South Dakota (pending), U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, U.S. Court of Federal Claims, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. Supreme Court (pending); Yankton Sioux Tribal Court, Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes Courts, Ute Indian Tribal Court, Oglala Sioux Tribal Court, Chippewa Cree Tribal Court, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Court.
Ms. Real Bird’s parents are Leonard Sonny Hare Jr. and Gayle Williams. Her paternal grandparents are the late Leonard Hare Sr. and Viola Feather Hare. Her paternal great grandparents are the late Levi Hare, Nancy Flyinghawk, Adam Feather and Sarah Obago. Her maternal grandparents are Venita Reifel Teachout and the late Darrell Teachout. Her maternal great grandparents are the late John Reifel, Eva Whipple, Ethel Clinton and R. Frank Teachout. Ms. Real Bird is married to Ken Henry Real Bird from Garryowen, Montana, Crow Reservation. She and her husband carry on the tradition of horsemanship instilled by both their families by breeding, raising, and training quarter horses which ties them to their past generations, cultures, family, and future generations.
Q& A With Thomasina Real Bird
- Where are you from?
I was born in Martin, South Dakota and raised on my family’s allotment in the Choteau Creek Community on the Yankton Sioux Reservation. I spent many summers at my grandmother’s south of Mission, South Dakota on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.
- How did you decide to become a lawyer? Did you always want to practice Indian law and/or work for a tribe? Why or why not?
The reason I went to law school, became an attorney, and practice Federal and Tribal law is due, in no small part, to witnessing the need for native attorney to represent tribes, tribal corporations, and tribal citizens. I was fortunate enough to have parents and family members that exposed me to larger tribal and national matters that affected tribes and tribal citizens. These experiences allowed me to learn about some incredible professionals that would later serve as mentors or people I observed and inspired my career. Tom Fredericks, Sam Deloria, Vine Deloria, John Echohawk, Yvonne Knight, Claudeen Bates Arthur, Jeanne Whiteing, Ada Deer, and Arlinda Locklear pioneered what is now federal Indian law and Tribal law. I grew up with the benefit of their ground-breaking efforts, as well as their accomplishments on behalf of Indians and tribes. At the same time I knew it was possible for an American Indian to achieve success in the legal field because these individuals were paving the way. It takes consummate professionals with incredible talents, focus, determination, and intelligence to so dramatically affect Indian law and policy in positive ways and the above-named attorneys make me proud to be Indian, proud to contribute to improving the lives of Indian people, and proud to carry on their great legacy in the legal arena.
- To date, what do you think is your most notable accomplishment – either legal or personal?
I consider it an honor and privilege to serve as general counsel to my own tribe. The opportunity to utilize my talents and training for a purpose as worthy as serving the firm’s clients is rewarding. I am also blessed to walk on this journey with my husband of 11 years, Ken Henry Real Bird, and receive the support of my mentors, in-laws, tiwahe, tiyospiye, and oyates.
- Is there anything in your career that you have not yet accomplished that you have set as a goal for yourself? If so, what is that? If not, do you plan to retire at some point or try another career?
I have a number of short term and long term goals including writing more legal scholarship and creating more opportunities to directly benefit tribal citizens whether it’s legal or otherwise. Although I still consider myself a young attorney, I predict that I will continue to practice law as long as I am still contributing to the profession and adding value to my clients. I do, however, have an entrepreneurial spirit and I can imagine myself eventually operation my own business outside the legal profession while still maintaining my law practice.
- Why did you join NNABA? What would you like to see the organization do or accomplish in the near and/or distant future?
I support NNABA’s dual approach to representing Indian nations not just Indian lawyers and its mission including the shared “communal responsibility, either directly or indirectly, of protecting the governmental sovereignty of the more than 560 independent Native American Tribal governments in the United States.”
I am grateful NNABA is close to completing the current Native American Research Initiative that will result in the first-of-its kind report. I would like to see this research used as a tool to increase the number of Indian lawyers in private practice, in-house, and government work, judges, and law professors.
- Do you have any advice for new lawyers? If so, what is it?
Use your talents for good, represent your clients with integrity and grit, be true to yourself (unless your true self is a bully in which case don’t be a bully), and be a good relative. Another piece of advice that I do not think is said enough in the practice of Indian and Tribal law is to respect tribes as sovereigns – many lawyers do not give that respect and advocate against tribes even though tribes provide essential governmental services and often are the only government in their communities.