'Warrior Lawyers': Documentary traces efforts to achieve 'Sacred Justice'

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News
For a documentary that was 6 years in the making, “Warrior Lawyers: Defenders of Sacred Justice” figures to resonate  for years based on the response to the program that aired on PBS stations across Michigan.
The topic, according to independent filmmaker Audrey Geyer, producer and director of the documentary, is “particularly timely and relevant given our country’s current reckoning with racial inequity and structural racism,” two hot-button subjects in the political discourse of today.

“The program focuses on the compelling and unique stories of Michigan Native American lawyers, tribal judges, and their colleagues who work with Federally Recognized Native Nations and their citizens to achieve ‘Sacred Justice,’” Geyer indicated. “These unseen role models strive daily to address and resolve unique and complicated historical, governmental, legal, judicial, and social welfare issues, which are most often rooted in discrimination, historical trauma, and cultural destruction.”

Geyer, who earned a bachelor of arts in film/video studies and English Literature at the University of Michigan and a master of social work from New York University, invites her audiences to “come take a journey into past and present-day Indian country to learn of untold stories that shine a light on Native Americans rising up to create a new path for today and for the next seven generations.”

Many featured in the film have ties to the John D. Voelker Foundation, a nonprofit created in 1989 to help provide scholarship aid to Native Americans interested in attending law school. The Voelker Foundation was launched by attorneys Fred Baker Jr. and Richard Vander Veen III to honor the  author and former justice of the Michigan Supreme Court whose pen name was “Robert Traver.”

Traver was the author of “Anatomy of Murder,” a best-selling mystery novel that spawned a hit movie.

Baker, who formerly served as a commissioner of the Michigan Supreme Court, said Geyer has “told a story worth telling” and deserves credit for her determination in shepherding the project to a successful conclusion.

“Warrior Lawyers” was showcased in November at a screening hosted by Plunkett Cooney.

The founder and executive director of Visions, a nonprofit video production organization, Geyer in 2013 produced a documentary titled “Our Fires Still Burn,” which traced “the Native American experience and history of the Boarding School Era when Native American children were forcibly removed from their homes, in effect drumming the Indian out of them,” according to Baker.

For Geyer, the mission of Visions is to produce “Midwest social affairs documentaries that tell in-depth stories of communities and cultures underrepresented and misrepresented in the media.”

Said Geyer: “Our goal is to create one-of-a-kind programs that ignite our audience’s empathy, expand their knowledge as well as encourage dialogue and positive social change.”

In “Warrior Lawyers,” Geyer has done just that, said Baker.

“She put her heart and soul into the film, earning the trust of those that she interviewed and highlighted, and giving them a voice to tell stories that need to be told and fully understood,” Baker said.

Among those featured in the film is Allie Greenleaf Maldonado, chief judge of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

“She was one of those that we were able to help attend law school,” Baker said of the Voelker Foundation’s scholarship program. “She was planning to live in her car while going to school until we helped out. She just needed a helping hand at the time, and now look at what a difference she has made for the Odawa nation.”

Other equally compelling stories are told through the lens of “Warrior Lawyers,” a film available on DVD or through streaming rights at www.warriorlawyers.org, Geyer indicated.

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