A member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Toni Goodin-Whitegrass was greatly impacted by the experiences of her mother and grandmother, who both hailed from the White Earth Reservation. In particular, stories of her mother’s time at a residential school compelled her to make the conscious decision early on to pursue a career in Native American law in order to make a difference in her community. Joining the University of California Los Angeles, she first earned a Bachelor of Science in political science before obtained her Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1990. During this time, she found further motivation for a career in law working as a paralegal and legal secretary for two large law firms in Los Angeles and interning with the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado.
After being licensed to practice law by the state of Washington’s Administrative Office of the Courts, Ms. Goodin-Whitegrass began her career as a tribal prosecutor for the Northwest Intertribal Court System in Edmonds, Washignton, serving from 1990 to 1992. From 1992 to 2005, she served as a generalist lawyer for the Yakama Nation in Toppenish, Washington, before attaining her current position of generalist attorney in the legal department of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians in 2005. Working on a variety of different cases, such as child welfare, hunting, and treaty rights litigation, her duties also include representing tribal programs, writing codes, appearing in court and representing parties on behalf of the tribe. Ms. Goodin-Whitegrass is also quite proud of the work she has done putting together the general welfare fund for the Puyallup Tribe.
An accomplished legal writer, Ms. Goodin-Whitegrass stands out in her field for her professional concentration on Native American law. Early on, she served as the commissioner for Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission in 1980 and later spent time as a board member for the Washington Association of Minority Entrepreneurs in 2000. She has done extensive work with the Indian Child Welfare Act, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, various tribal regulations and even served as a judge for two years. Hoping to leave a legacy as a lawyer who dedicated her entire life and career to the practice of federal Native American law, Ms. Goodin-Whitegrass considers the most rewarding part of her career to be the private work she does for clients, which includes historic background searches and DNA testing.
In order to keep abreast of developments in her field, Ms. Goodin-Whitegrass also holds membership in the Washington State Bar Association and donates her time to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Environmental Defense Fund. She was recognized early on for her excellence with several college scholarships and was named to Outstanding Young Women of America in 1987. More recently, she was named a Lawyer of Distinction by the Washington Association of Minority Entrepreneurs in 2020. Ms. Goodin-Whitegrass would advise young and aspiring legal professionals to keep pushing, be tenacious, never give up and to find an experienced mentor who can support and guide you when you need it.
Looking toward retirement, Ms. Goodin-Whitegrass intends to start writing novels dealing with the historic trauma experienced by Native Americans and has been considering plans to pursue a master’s degree in creative writing and fine arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico. She notably has already had a piece of creative work published in a magazine. Furthermore, she intends to do exploration into her family’s history on the side of her French Canadian father, as she recently found out that her family on that side had a rather large role to play in the early development of the state of Minnesota. Ms. Goodin-Whitegrass also enjoys spending time doing yoga, traveling and painting.