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ABA installs first Native woman president

Mary Smith (Cherokee Nation) was installed Aug. 7 as president of the American Bar Association (ABA). She is the first Native American woman to hold the position. (Bill Paul of the Chickasaw Nation was the first Native American in the post from 1999 to 2000).

Smith is the former president of the National Native American Bar Association (NNABA), where she served from 2013 to 2015. At the NNABA, she oversaw the publication of a report that gave a comprehensive picture of the issues confronting Native American attorneys in private practices, government practices, the judiciary, corporate legal departments and academia. The NNABA is a national association composed of Native attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students.

Mary Smith (NNABA)

“The National Native American Bar Association is immensely proud of Mary Smith’s achievements and her dedication to advancing the legal profession and empowering diverse communities,” Makalika Naholowaa (Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiian), NNABA president, said in a news release. “Her historic presidency of the American Bar Association represents a significant milestone for Native Americans and the legal community.”

The ABA is the world’s largest voluntary association of lawyers, judges, and legal professionals.

Smith has previously served in state and federal government positions. She served on the senior management team of the civil division at the U.S. Department of Justice, and as general counsel at the Illinois Department of Insurance. She is a former CEO of the Indian Health Service, and was appointed by the U.S. Courts as trustee of the tribal abatement trust fund – a more than $1 billion fund used to address the opioid epidemic.

Smith is currently vice chair of the Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm VENG Group. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Economic Club of Chicago, the International Women’s Forum, and the National Association of Corporate Directors.

In 2019, Smith founded the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation. Its mission is to increase the number of Native American girls in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.