CILS chosen as 2021 Nonprofit of the Year


California Indian Legal Services was chosen as a 2021 Nonprofit of the Year


Escondido, CA, June 23, 2021 – California Indian Legal Services (CILS) is proud to announce it has been selected as a 2021 California Nonprofit of the Year by District 38 Senator Brian Jones.

California Indian Legal Services is one of more than one hundred nonprofits that will be honored by their state senators and assembly members for their tremendous contributions to the communities they serve.

California Indian Legal Services’ mission is to protect and advance Indian rights, foster Indian self-determination, and facilitate tribal nation-building. CILS is one of the oldest non-profit law firms for Native American rights. Governed by a Board of Trustees selected by California tribes, tribal organizations, and dedicated state bar attorneys, CILS has provided free and low-cost legal services to California tribes, tribal organizations, and Native American individuals throughout the state for over five decades.

“I am extremely proud of CILS and its dedicated staff in protecting Native American and Tribal rights throughout California. For our work to be recognized and celebrated by State Senator Brian Jones is an honor and we are deeply grateful for his acknowledgment” stated Executive Director Dorothy Alther.

“The pandemic and shelter-in-place orders of the past year and a half have put nonprofits– usually hidden in plain sight – in the spotlight,” explains Jan Masaoka, CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits). “California Nonprofit of the Year is an opportunity for our elected officials to celebrate the good work they see nonprofits doing in their districts, and for everyone to appreciate the collective impact of nonprofits in our communities.”

For more information about California Indian Legal Service visit or contact Nicole Scott, Director of Marketing and Development at

Happy Pride From California Indian Legal Services!

By Mark Vezzola, CILS Escondido office Directing Attorney

CILS wishes everyone a happy and safe Pride month! The month-long collection of events, flag-waving, and parade floats is meant to celebrate and honor who we are and show support for our clients, friends, staff, and allies who do not identify with traditional ideas of gender or sexuality.

What does CILS have to do with Pride? Our federal Indian and Tribal law work builds on values promoted by the LGBTQ2+ community – fairness, equality, and inclusion. Interestingly enough, the number “2” in LGBTQ2+ recognizes people who identify as “Two-Spirit,” a pan-Indian idea that acknowledges individuals who do not identify as heterosexual or cisgender but rather a third gender or gender variant. The term “Two-Spirit” came out of a 1990 Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg, Canada, as more precise and culturally informed than “gay” or “transgender” because such individuals were not only embraced by their communities but often revered for possessing qualities connected to both sexes.  It was non-binary people of color who helped launch the modern gay rights movement with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, thus giving CILS and Native communities another reason to celebrate Pride.

Long before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld marriage equality on equal protection grounds in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015), Native American communities not only accepted but respected and even revered people who did not conform to conventional gender roles or sexual identities. The Lakota people, for example, recognized winktes, males who adopted a female identity, as powerful and often relied on them to name infants and serve in other ceremonial roles. More recently, in the wake of the cultural and political debate that unfolded over marriage equality in the mid-2000s, many Tribal nations have shown their commitment to inclusion and equality while flexing their sovereign powers to amend and develop laws that allow for same-sex marriage.  Dozens of Tribal nations, including Suquamish (WA), Little Traverse Bay Band (MI), Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel (CA), Pokagon Potawatomi (MI), Leech Lake (MN), Puyallup (WA), Coquille (OR), Shoshone Arapaho (WY), Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (MI), Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes (AK), Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (CT), and the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, recognized and permitted same-sex marriage before it was legal throughout the United States.

CILS continues to advocate for equality and sovereignty on behalf of Tribal  Nations, Native American organizations, and individuals. CILS projects and work that address LGBTQ2+ issues include drafting and revising family and employment codes to use gender-neutral pronouns and acknowledging the rights of same-sex couples and non-binary individuals. Helping clients who identify as LGBTQ2+ draft prepare thorough estate plans that protect their same-sex spouses, partners, and other family members, and more. Not long ago, a CILS staff member serving as a Tribal court judge officiated at the same-sex couple’s wedding, the first we know of under the laws of that Tribe.

Resources and Information

To read more about Two-Spirit identity and Two Spirit-focused resources, check out the Indian Health Service’s website:

For a discussion of same-sex marriage in Indian country, we recommend Professor Ann Tweedy’s 2015 Columbia University’s Human Rights Law Review article:

For statistics about the economic opportunities, family acceptance, and health risks facing Two-Spirit people, check out “Spotlight on Two-Spirit Communities” by NCAI:

Sacramento CILS Office Highlights

By Jedd Parr, CILS Sacramento office Directing Attorney

Here are a few examples of the good work from our Sacramento office:

We gave an ICWA training on April 28, 2021, to Butte, Yuba, and Tehama Counties, and several local tribes. About 40 people attended via Zoom. Similar training was given for Tulare County and local tribes on June 3, 2021, which about 20 people attended.

We updated a tribal client’s Communicable Disease Ordinance to better allow them to enforce quarantine and isolation orders issued by their Tribal Public Health Authority, which they believe will improve their control of the spread of COVID-19 on the reservation.

We helped an individual client obtain a residential lease on an allotment on his tribe’s reservation, where he has built a traditional cedar plank house.

We persuaded a County in an ICWA case to support a tribal client’s preferred placement. The County first supported a non-Indian extended family member in another state, while our client’s placement was a tribal member but not family. However, the tribe’s placement was local and had another tribal member child in the home, and the tribe’s position was that their home would best support the child’s connection to the tribe. After some contention and negotiation between the tribe and County, we modified the ICWA’s placement preferences by tribal Resolution. The court ultimately ordered the tribal family as the child’s placement.

We continue to work with the California Public Domain Allottee Association to develop potential collaborations with environmental and natural resource nonprofits and academic research institutes. In addition, we continued to assist several individuals with regaining access to landlocked allotments.

We are helping an individual client appeal to the Social Security Administration (SSA) after she received a coronavirus-related stimulus payment from her tribe – based on her status as a low-income individual on SSI – but then had her SSI benefits reduced by the SSA. This poses a circular problem and does not serve the intent of the funding, which was to stimulate the economy by giving those most likely to spend money a little extra to spend.

Finally, we have recently begun work on how a new California law, The Families Over Fees Act (AB 1869), can help write off certain unpaid criminal administrative fees and related liens and interest, which disproportionately affect low-income individuals and pose a barrier to successful reentry to society.

Changes To CILS Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Legal Services During COVID

By Susan Dalati, CILS Escondido office Staff Attorney

The CILS Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault (“DV/SA”) Legal Advocacy Program is housed CILS’ Escondido office and is comprised of an attorney and legal advocate. Due to the pandemic, the DV/SA Program staff began providing virtual legal services in March 2020. To date, their services are still being provided virtually. The transition to virtual services has been challenging, but the DV/SA legal staff has met the challenges by assessing their clients’ needs and making changes to accommodate those needs.

One of the significant changes was that DV/SA community providers started to meet more frequently to communicate their current status regarding services and sharing their available resources. The North County Domestic Violence Coalition (currently chaired by the CILS DV Staff Attorney and well attended) started meeting virtually every other week. (They have gone back to monthly meetings). During the pandemic, a new virtual meeting group of providers was formed headed by Keely Linton, the Executive Director of Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition, and comprised of local Tribal community partners. This meeting occurs every week and is still happening.  The meeting has been tremendously helpful in allowing partners to keep in touch, share resources, and expeditiously coordinate client services when needed. The DV/SA Legal Staff feels that this meeting has fostered strong bonds with the Tribal community partners.

The DV/SA Legal Staff found that it sometimes seems to take a bit longer to build trust with a new client because client meetings are being conducted virtually. The DV/SA Legal Staff try to make sure the client is comfortable with them before dispensing legal advice. During the pandemic, the DV/SA Legal Staff has had former clients return to them for services. Some of the issues that have arisen for returning clients include; a marked increase in abuse by their perpetrators, custody and visitation issues related to the pandemic, challenges with maintaining sobriety and mental health, etc. The legal advocate and attorney have worked together since the beginning of the CILS’s first DV/SA grant in 2015. They have always encouraged former clients to return for services if new issues arise or prior issues re-emerge.

The DV/SA Legal Staff is currently taking new client referrals. They assist survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sex trafficking. All of their services are cost-free, and there are no income guidelines. They primarily serve San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, but they can also give out general information and referrals for other counties. Potential clients can reach out to the legal advocate at (760) 746-8941 extension 106. Please leave a message along with a safe phone number, and your call will be returned. Below please find a list of additional DV/SA resources.


Avellaka “Safety for Native Women” Program Office: 1 (760) 742-8628

Cahuilla Consortium: 24/7 Helpline: 1 (951) 330-0479 Office: 1 (951) 763-5547 Advocacy email:

Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocacy 24/7 Office: 1 (760) 765-8897

Indian Health Council’s “Peace Between Partners” Program:  Advocate and Therapist: 1 (760) 749-1410 ext. 5249

San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians Native Women’s Resource Program:  Office: 1 (760) 651-5171

Southern Indian Health Council’s Project Safe Program:  Office: 1 (619) 445-1188 ext. 200

Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition, Inc.: Office: 1 (760) 644-4781

StrongHearts Native Helpline:  Helpline: 1 (844) 762-8483

Non-Native American Specific Resources:

California Courts Self Help:

National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence:

National Domestic Violence Hotline:  or   Helpline: 1 (800) 799-7233 (SAFE)

National Human Trafficking Hotline 1 (888) 373-7888 (TTY: 711) *Text 233733

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255 (TALK)

Rape Abuse Incest National Network: 1 (800) 656-4673 (HOPE)