Our New Executive Director

Dorothy ED


Senior Staff Attorney, Dorothy Alther has been selected as the new Executive Director for California Indian Legal Services.

Upon accepting the position Ms. Alther noted,

I am honored to have been offered this opportunity to continue to work for CILS in a new capacity. I look forward to the challenges and rewards that come with being the Executive Director of a program that has a long history of serving California Tribes, tribal members and tribal communities.

My vision for CILS is to encourage and support my attorney and advocate staff to be at the forefront of issues facing our client community. Working collectively as a team we can make a difference. By helping build strong tribal infrastructure we can help tribes and the members of the community address problems without having to resort to outside governments for assistance. We will also remain committed to helping individual tribal members with legal problems that impact their health and welfare. CILS will remain a vital resource to our tribal community and continue to provide them top quality legal services.


Dorothy Alther has been an attorney with CILS for over 20 years and was in the Bishop CILS Office until she relocated to the Escondido Office in 2003. Her current work focuses on tribal issues including environmental law, housing law, tribal ordinance development, and tribal recognition. Dorothy serves as legal counsel for tribes and tribal entities, and works with tribal courts, tribal law enforcement development, and a variety of other tribal matters. Ms. Alther has been a trainer on Public Law 280, the Indian Child Welfare Act, housing law and civil and criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country. Dorothy is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and graduated from University of South Dakota and earned her J.D. from Northeastern University. Ms. Alther served as Managing Attorney at DNA’s People’s Legal Services in Crownpoint, New Mexico prior to coming to CILS and served as a Tribal Attorney for the Suquamish Tribe in Washington.

In 2010, Dorothy was a recipient of the Pierce-Hickerson Award. Which honors outstanding contributions to the advancement or preservation of Native American rights. Her current work includes two cases now at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; one which will have significant impact in the area of funding tribal law enforcement under an Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act contract and the other addresses whether Congress has waived tribal immunity under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.


The last ten years have been especially productive for CILS. The organization instituted various work groups to address issues specific to Native Americans, including the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA). Out of a concern for Native families, CILS and other Native advocates fought the “existing Indian family” exception which would have allowed ICWA to apply only in cases where the Indian children have significant political, cultural or social ties to the tribes. CILS supported the enactment of California Senate Bill 678 which codified federal law into California statutes – ensuring that ICWA’s protections appear in state law. Similarly, CILS advocated for a California-specific provision in the AIPRA to allow for Natives with unique Public Domain trust land interests to devise land in Indian Wills.

Tribal law enforcement and tribal courts have, in recent years, flourished within California tribal communities. CILS has led the way with trainings and conferences for California tribes developing their judicial systems. CILS work includes organizing five annual statewide tribal court conferences, drafting numerous tribal codes including peace and security codes, moderating tribal police chief meetings, hosting tribal law enforcement roundtables and offering other tribal justice assistance.

Moving into the future CILS continues to stay attuned to the changing needs of Native communities in California. Today, four field offices (Bishop, Escondido, Eureka, and Sacramento) staffed by advocates including attorneys, paralegals and intake workers serve all fifty eight counties throughout California as well as tribes outside the state.

For additional information, please contact CILS at contactcils@calindian.org.