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Legal trailblazer leaves a legacy

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 PABLO — Flags were at half-mast and tribal headquarters was closed on Monday as the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes mourned the passing of a legal trailblazer who left a legacy of ground-breaking legal work behind her. 

Evelyn Stevenson, 75, died March 12 in Ronan from health complications. The Blue Bay native was a leading national expert on the Indian Child Welfare Act and helped author the act itself. 

She was one of the first Native American women to be admitted to the Montana Bar and was the first in-house attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 

In her lifetime she fought fiercely in many legal battles for the tribes. Because of Stevenson’s work Indian children were afforded the right to be familiarized with their culture, Kootenai Falls avoided a major hydroelectric project that would have led to de-watering and the right to prosecute misdemeanors was relinquished back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 

“She was a trailblazer in so many ways,” former CSKT attorney Pat Smith said. “There are so many paths she traveled.” 

But the stalwart attorney also had a softer side that she unleashed when appropriate. 

“Her sense of humor was just wonderful,” Smith said. “In stressful dire moments you could count on Evelyn to find the humor in the situation.” 

In addition to her contributions to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Stevenson also worked with the Maori people of New Zealand to formulate legal protections similar to the Indian Child Welfare Act. 

Funeral services for Stevenson were held on Monday in Elmo. Burial followed in Ronan. 

 

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