'Warrior lawyers': Documentary traces tribal efforts for 'Sacred Justice'


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

For a documentary film that was 6 years in the making, “Warrior Lawyers: Defenders of Sacred Justice” figures to resonate with audiences for years to come based on the early response to the one-hour program that recently aired on PBS stations across Michigan.

The topic, according to independent filmmaker Audrey Geyer who was the 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 as well 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 of those featured in the film have ties to the John D. Voelker Foundation, a nonprofit organization 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 internationally acclaimed 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 by the same name in 1959 starring Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden, and Lee Remick.

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

“Audrey is a truly amazing and dogged person, and I like to see her finally getting recognition for this project,” said Baker. “It took 6-plus years, and she stuck with it.”

Geyer has been a video director/producer for more than two decades, and many of her programs have “aired locally and nationally on PBS as well as been extensively distributed to the educational markets and via community screening events.”

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.”

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.


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