Grad works for 'a better tomorrow'

June 4, 2021
Decorative Center for Indian Law and Policy graphic

Makayla Gustafson, citizen of Tlingit and Haida Tribal Nation, was inspired to attend law school and seek a career as a lawyer by her great-great-great grandfather.

Makayla Gustafson in cap and gown at Fisherman's Terminal.
Makayla Gustafson

"He was a man of conviction. He avidly worked with and for our people for a better tomorrow. I hope to do the same," she said.

Gustafson earned her JD this year and graduated in May.

"Speaking up for what's right has always been important to me," she said. "My commitment to my community and other Native communities has had the greatest impact on shaping who I am, and who I want to be. It has broadened my empathy, as well as my ability to advocate."

Throughout her time at Seattle University School of Law, Gustafson was active in leadership. She served as president of Seattle University School of Law's Native American Law Student Association chapter, while also serving as President of OutLaws. Her ultimate goal is a career in public interest law, specifically public defense.

During her first summer of law school, Gustafson participated in the prestigious and competitive Governor's Leadership Academy program. During her time as interning counsel to Gov. Jay Inslee, she wrote memoranda for pending clemency petitions and provided guidance regarding a proposed U.S. Housing and Urban Development rule.

She served as a Rule 9 public defender in Whatcom County during her second summer, working with many clients from the beginning to the conclusion of their cases. She joined the Western District of Washington Federal Public Defenders Office as an extern during her last year of law school. Her community-focused work included reducing community supervision and assisting with cases concerning Indian law and its intersection with federal law. She also worked on federal cannabis possession cases.

During law school, Gustafson served as research assistant for Professor Bryan Adamson, working on the Legal Financial Obligation Impact Litigation Project.

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