Achieving dreams, top Native attorney Elizabeth Saagulik Hensley, makes partner

Hensley: “We are capable beyond our wildest dreams. I love that saying "We are our ancestors wildest dreams."

This is a story about centuries-old Inupiat values, about determination, tenacity, and hard work. It’s a story about a daughter whose parents and relatives encouraged her to make her dreams come true, all of them wrapped around ancestral traits passed down from one generation to another.

This is Elizabeth Saagulik Hensley, the youngest born to William and Abigale Hensley of Anchorage and first to become an attorney in the family.

Not only that, but Saagulik just became a partner in the law firm of Landye Bennett Blumstein LLP, a regional firm based in the Northwest and Alaska.

“Since 1955, our diverse experience and attentive service have helped public and private corporations, real estate developers, homeowner associations, municipalities, nonprofit groups, and individuals to achieve practical results. We partner with clients so they can succeed, whether it is a routine matter or a complex case. We do this by being efficient, effective, committed, and talented.

“We have built our practice around one uniting principle: hiring and retaining great lawyers. They might specialize in real estate, environmental, aircraft liability litigation, business, tax, plaintiff cases, general business litigation, or Native American law, but the one thing they have in common is that they are respected as leaders in their areas of expertise. They are part of our firm because they have chosen to practice law with colleagues who are equally talented and who have gained the respect of the legal community and the clients they serve,” the firm’s website said.

The firm’s regional ranking places it at the top in corporate law, Native American law, environmental law, information technology law, and real estate law. It has an additional office and staff in Portland, Oregon.

“I appreciate that in my role I am able to support tribes, tribal organizations, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations, Alaska businesses, and others in achieving their missions, visions, and goals. I love working with a team to help people succeed,” Hensley said.

Hensley’s Inupiaq heritage derives from the Kotzebue region.

“My paternal side of the family is Inupiaq from Qikiktagruk (Kotzebue), and my material side is White from Anchorage and other places before they settled in Denaina country. I was raised by my parents and a community of aunties and uncles, some biologically related and others who aren't biologically related to me but who saw a need or something in me that encouraged them to take me under their wing.

“These Elders showed me that Native people can rise through the ashes of our intergenerational and direct trauma to do good things for our communities and the world.

“We are capable beyond our wildest dreams. I love that saying "We are our ancestors wildest dreams."

“For me to get where I am personally and professionally, it has taken a lot of sweat and tears, managing self-doubt, and grit to navigate through systems that were designed to assimilate Native people and cause us to forget who we are. The Inupiat Ilitqusiat often referred to as the Inupiat Values, has been one of my guides through that maze as long as I can remember (translation: Inupiat - the real people; Ilitqusiat - those things which make us who we are).

“The Inupiat Ilitqusiat is not a destination but a guide to help us move through the world as Inupiat people who are part of a community. That they are a foundational guide for me was intentional teaching on the part of my Elders.

“I am a flawed human and have many shortcomings, though it is my intention that by keeping the Ilitqusiat as a guide I will live in this world in a way that honors who I am as a descendant of our ancestors, a mother, daughter, and relative,” Saagulik said.

Saagulik, the firm said in a press release this week, focuses her law practice on representing Alaska businesses and Alaska Native tribes, organizations, and corporations in matters encompassing transactions, health care, employment, business organization, child welfare, hunting and fishing rights and responsibilities, co-management of natural resources, and state and federal policy.

On becoming a firm partner, Saagulik said, “this achievement belongs not only to me but to the mentors, aunts, uncles, and community members who have invested in my personal and professional development. It also belongs to the clients that I am blessed to work with. Alaska Natives represent less than two percent of Alaska attorneys despite being about twenty percent of Alaska’s population. It is my hope that the legal community will grow to reflect the diversity of our great state.”

Saagulik received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College in 2005 and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in 2009. Her experience includes serving as general counsel to a regional tribal nonprofit organization, staff attorney and public policy liaison at an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act regional corporation, Alaska legislative aide, and senior policy advisor for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior. She provided international human rights law support to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rights of Indigenous Peoples through coursework and a legal fellowship.

Landye Bennett Blumstein provides legal services to clients throughout the Pacific Northwest, including private and public corporations, Alaska Native corporations, tribes, tribal associations and housing authorities, municipalities, real estate developers, nonprofit organizations and individuals.

John Tetpon, Inupiaq, is a longtime Alaska journalist, musician and artist. His email: johnnytetpon@yahoo.com

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