Cherokee installed as First Native American president of the American Bar Association

DENVER – Mary Smith, Cherokee, has been named President of the American Bar Association (ABA), making her the first Native American to hold the position. The ABA is the world’s largest voluntary association of lawyers, judges, and legal professionals.

“The National Native American Bar Association is immensely proud of Mary Smith’s achievements and her dedication to advancing the legal profession and empowering diverse communities,” said Makalika Naholowaa, President of the NNABA. “Her historic presidency of the American Bar Association represents a significant milestone for Native Americans and the legal community. The NNABA extends its warmest congratulations to Mary on this momentous occasion and pledges its unwavering support in her efforts to shape a brighter future for the legal profession and the nation.”

Smith is Vice Chair of the VENG Group and an independent board member. A former CEO of a $6 billion national healthcare organization, the Indian Health Service, she was appointed by the U.S. courts as Trustee of the Tribal Abatement Fund Trust, a $1 billion+ fund to address the opioid epidemic. Smith has served at the highest levels of government, both at the federal and state level, including on the senior management team of the Civil Division at the U.S. Department of Justice and as general counsel at the Illinois Department of Insurance. Earlier in her career, Smith served in the White House as associate counsel to the president and associate director of policy planning. She previously served in a senior role at Tyco International Inc., managing one of the country’s most high-profile corporate governance and accounting matters. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Economic Club of Chicago, the International Women’s Forum, and the National Association of Corporate Directors.

Smith served as NNABA President from 2013-15, where she spearheaded The Pursuit of Inclusion: An In-Depth Exploration of the Experiences and Perspectives of Native American Attorneys in the Legal Profession. The groundbreaking research report provided the first comprehensive picture of the issues confronting Native American attorneys across all settings—including private practice; government practice in state, federal, and tribal arenas; the judiciary; corporate legal departments; and academia.

In 2019, Smith founded the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation with a mission to empower Native American girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.