Bishop Office Highlights

By Mike Godbe, CILS Bishop Office Directing Attorney

The Bishop office of California Indian Legal Services (CILS) has been busy.

For over 35 years, CILS’ Bishop office has been the home of the Eastern Sierra Legal Assistance Program (ESLAP) and the Inyo Mono Senior Legal Program (IMSLP), where we assist seniors (60 +) and low-income individuals with legal matters unrelated to federal Indian law (eviction defense, public benefits, simple wills, durable powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives, etc.). With grant-funded support from the City of Bishop, CILS commissioned the design of new logos and manufacturing of a new sign for the office promoting these two programs .

The new logos were designed by award-winning creative services leader, Ashraf Ali, in consultation with CILS. Ashraf’s commitment to the display of equality, empowerment and inclusion is evident in his work. We’re thrilled with the result and hope that with a sign visible from Bishop’s Main St., that more local residents will find our legal services!

The new sign arrived just in time for an expansion of the office’s eviction defense and homelessness prevention (HP) work. In December 2021 the California State Bar awarded CILS with a competitive HP III grant with two primary components.

First, we will be opening remote computer workstations up and down the far reaches of Alpine, Mono, and Inyo counties to make our legal services more accessible to these rural and underserved populations. Housing insecure tenants will be able to schedule an appointment or come to set office hours and video chat with an attorney who can assist them in scanning their lease or an eviction notice. The farthest workstations will be located in Bear Valley and Tecopa – each approximately 4 hours away from our Bishop office.

The second primary component of this exciting new project will also involve remote workstations in three Urban Indian Health Organizations located in Sacramento, Oakland, and Los Angeles. CILS will provide limited legal services to housing insecure urban Native Americans in the clinics where they already receive medical care and related services. CILS will then make an elevated referral directly to a managing attorney at local qualified legal service provider partner who can take the reins and take over representation.

CILS’ Bishop office has also recently welcomed a number of new staff members.
Laura Janoff, Advocate, begin working in October. Laura is a paralegal and notary, and longtime resident of the eastern Sierras. When she’s not working for CILS she volunteers with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra and plays an active role with local alcohol recovery organizations supporting individuals in recovery.

Rachel Leiterman joined the office in February as a part-time Housing Staff Attorney to support the HP III grant projects. She was in private practice for two decades before moving to the Bishop area 10 years ago, and she serves as the volunteer coordinator for Mule Days and volunteers with the Forest Service in her spare time.

Emma Williams joined the office in March as an Administrative Assistant. Emma is a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe and brings over a decade of experience working for her Tribe and tribal organizations. Before joining CILS, Emma directed the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Elder’s program.

Welcome Laura, Rachel, and Emma!

The Bishop office is also searching for a Full Time Housing Staff Attorney to oversee the exciting HP III projects mentioned above. See the details and learn how to apply by reviewing the employment section of our website!

CILS Announces Heather Hostler as Next Executive Director

On September 7, 2021, CILS will be welcoming a new Executive Director, Heather Hostler, working in our Sacramento Office. For my part, I will be remaining in our Escondido Office in my new role as CILS Legal Director. While organizational change can be hard and challenging, it can also bring new ideas, energy, and improvements to an organization. CILS has been my home for over 30 years, and I am confident that Heather, with my full support and that of staff, can enhance CILS and keep it the premier non-profit Indian law firm it has always been.

I am looking forward to my new role as Legal Director, which will allow me to devote all my attention to being an Indian law lawyer once again and working more closely with our great team of CILS attorneys and advocates. Doing Indian law and representing Native American individuals and tribes has been my passion for the 36 years of being an attorney. It was an honor and a privilege to be the Executive Director of CILS for the last eight years. Still, I am looking forward to my new position and contributing to the legal program that I love and the communities we serve.

Welcome, Heather, and this new chapter at CILS.

With appreciation,
Dorothy Alther
CILS Executive Director

California Indian Legal Services Announces Heather Hostler as Next Executive Director

SACRAMENTO, CA, August 30, 2021 – The Board of Trustees of California Indian Legal Services is honored to announce that it has selected the California Department of Social Services Office of Tribal Affairs Director Heather Hostler to be CILS’ next Executive Director. Heather will succeed current CILS Executive Director Dorothy Alther.

“It is my pleasure to announce that the CILS Board of Trustees has hired the new Executive Director, Heather Hostler. She will be the ED beginning September 7, 2021. Heather has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Native American Studies from Humboldt State University and over twenty years experience working with tribal governments,” said Mark Romero, Board Chair of California Indian Legal Services. “Let’s all welcome her and work with her towards a bright future for CILS.”

Heather has garnered an outstanding reputation as a passionate advocate and positive change maker for Native Americans in California in her current role as Director of the Office of Tribal Affairs in the California Department of Social Services. Before that, she was the Chief Deputy Tribal Advisor to the Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown. She served as the Native American Liaison at the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs and the Program Manager for Grants and Scholarships at the Humboldt Area Foundation. She also served as the Executive Administrator for the Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman. She began her career at Native Cultures Fund and North Coast Cultural Trust and currently serves on the Tribal Court State Court Forum.

“I am excited to start my new chapter of leading CILS,” said Heather Hostler. “As someone who grew up on the Hoopa Valley tribal village of Tak’mil-ding, I have a deep appreciation for the interconnected struggles of Native American families and a personal connection to their struggle for racial, economic, and environmental justice. Today, Native Americans are on the frontline of democracy reform, and legal aids like CILS will continue to lead the charge for every major social issue for their communities. CILS will continue the fight for a fairer, more just society, every day, for as long as it takes—just like they have always done for over fifty years.”

“I am delighted that the board has selected Heather Hostler as CILS’s next Executive Director. The board could not be more thrilled for the continued growth and development of our organization under her leadership,” said CILS Vice-Chairman Joe Ayala. “Serving on the CILS board has been an opportunity for me to grow and give. I am grateful to all the dedicated partners, lawyers, and advocates that I have been fortunate to work with along the way. CILS’ fight for a just, free, and equitable society for all has never been more important, and Heather is the right leader for this important moment.”

CILS Board of Trustees—Who Are They?

By Dorothy Alther, Executive Director

Federal law and regulation dictate who is eligible to be a CILS Board of Trustees member. The Legal Service Corporation (LSC), CILS’s largest funding provider, is bound by these regulations and ensures that legal service programs it funds follow the rules. The LSC regulations do not restrict the number of Board of Trustees CILS can have, but rather define the percentage of the various groups that must be represented on the Board.

LSC regulations provide that 60% of recipients governing be attorneys, one-third of the Board must be persons who are client eligible, and the remainder of the Board members may be appointed or selected by the Board but must make the Board, as a whole, reasonably reflective of the diversity of the areas served by the recipient.

Pictured from left to right are our Principle Office Staff and Board Members: Executive Director Dorothy Alther, Board Member Joe Ayala, Board Member Merri Lopez-Keifer, Board Member Sheila Quinlan, Board Chairman Mark Romero, Board Member Robert Gonzalez, Board Member Gabe Cayton, Board Member Victorio Shaw, Director of Administration Patricia De La Cruz-Lynas, and Director of Marketing and Development Nicole Scott.

CILS’ has eleven (11) Board members falling within these required categories. CILS divides the state into two (2) equal regions: the north and the south. Community representatives on the Board are recruited from each area. To be eligible for an appointment to the CILS Board as a community representative, an individual must be California Indian. California Indian tribes and organizations make recommendations for the appointment of community representative. A recommendation can come from: federally recognized Indian tribes, terminated Indian tribes, unrecognized Indian tribes, Indian associations, organizations, and groups. The individual must be a resident of California and reside in the geographic area they will represent (see below which region the applicant can represent).

Northern California Counties include: Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Mono, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo, and Yuba.

Southern California Counties include: Fresno, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Benito, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.

Board members are expected to attend four (4) quarterly Board meetings each year; at a minimum of three (3) via teleconference and one (1) in-person meeting (in-person attendance for all meetings is encouraged), attend at least one (1) CILS sponsored event per year, participate on 1-2 Board committees, contribute an average of 1-2 hours per month between quarterly meetings, attend Board development retreats and training, participate in annual strategic planning sessions and fundraising efforts, make a personally significant financial contribution each year (100% participation from the board is expected), and actively contribute their expertise to the Board’s important role in CILS’ organizational and programmatic affair, including recruiting new Board members and community relations.

How to Apply:  All applications are comprised of:  1) a letter of interest and 2) a resume from the individual.  In their letter of interest, applicants should describe not only their interest in serving on the CILS Board but also specific skills, experience, or areas of expertise they would bring to the Board.  Applicants should indicate the name of the California Indian tribe, organization, or group that would support their application.  Before appointment, a formal resolution, support letter, or similar action from the recommending organization or tribe must be submitted.  Applications can be submitted directly to

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: