JUDGE CLAUDETTE C. WHITE
In Memorarium: A Loving Tribute to our Beloved Board Member
Judge Claudette C. White was an enrolled member of the Quechan Indian Tribe, where she served as chief judge for 11 years and was elected to Tribal Council. During this period, she also served the trial and appellate courts as judge pro tem for a number of tribal nations in Arizona, including Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Tonto Apache Tribe, and the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Judge White also served as Chief Judge of the San Manuel Tribal Court. Judge White is a graduate of Northern Arizona University with a major in Criminal Justice. She earned a Juris Doctorate at the Sandra Day O’Conner School of Law at Arizona State University, with a special certificate in Federal Indian Law. Over a distinguished career with tribal courts, she worked to ensure justice by collaborating with local and neighboring jurisdictions, and working to educate state courts about tribal courts and strengthen comity among the various court systems. Judge White served as an appointed member to the California Tribal and State Court Forum and the Arizona Tribal, State, Federal Court Forum, as well as the California Child Welfare Council. Judge White worked to incorporate concepts of restorative justice by utilizing tribal customs and traditions, and focusing on alternatives to standard punitive measures.
Claudette dedicated her career to putting tribal sovereignty into practice through tribal justice systems. The film Tribal Justice followed Judge White in her work to transform the justice system into something that worked for, rather than against, Indigenous people. She was a champion of the restorative justice movement, putting it into practice daily as a judge and a leader in national, state, and regional collaborative efforts.
Claudette will always be cherished for the passion she had for advocating for the most vulnerable among our peoples. She was a fierce warrior for our missing and murdered relatives, and courageously shared her own experiences with the public as a family member. She showed incredible leadership in her work to protect Indigenous children in the child welfare system, and to ensure that the Indian Child Welfare Act was being put into practice in the best way possible. More largely, she was a loving sister that always went above and beyond to uplift the leadership of other Indigenous women, and to help all of us feel strong in ourselves. She strongly believed in ending violence against Indigenous women and children, and gave years of service to the movement to address it.
One of the memories of Claudette we treasure is her love for wearing her Quechan traditional dress and beadwork. She was strong in her culture and identity as a Quechan woman, and wore her dress and beadwork regularly. She taught many of us to take pride in being Indigenous women, and to wear our skirts with honor. She taught us that skirts were not just meant for ceremony--they were day-to-day reminders of who we are and where we come from, and our connection to the land and each other.
Claudette believed in being of service to the people. She put that belief into practice daily, often in ways few people knew about. For example, though she never advertised it, she donated her time to help survivors we work with to create a safety plan and put distance between them and their abusers, and advocated on behalf of MMIWG2 families in Southern California. She was also exceptionally warm hearted and encouraging, and was often that big sister in the crowd filming a speech or presentation and cheering you on. She even frequently kept spare pairs of earrings in her bag to give as gifts. That is who Claudette was--generous, loving, nurturing, fiercely loyal to her peoples and her loved ones, and radiating positive energy.
In 2018, when our now-Executive Director Annita Lucchesi traveled to Washington DC alongside staff from the Urban Indian Health Institute to release the nation’s first report on MMIWG (based on data that would later become housed at SBI), Claudette White and her son Zion were there, and sang and danced in honor of the women represented in the report. Shortly after, when Annita approached Claudette about forming Sovereign Bodies Institute, Claudette didn’t hesitate, and immediately agreed to serve as a founding Board member. Claudette has been a part of SBI since Day 1. It is incredibly hard to imagine it continuing without her leadership, intelligence, compassion, and dedication.
However, we must forge ahead. We continue our work with a renewed sense of purpose, remembering Claudette and her spirit in all we do. We know that her spirit will continue to guide us and watch over us, and in the words of fellow SBI Board member Theda NewBreast, she is now one badass ancestor.