When Estelle Bowman was a little girl, she tagged along to meetings with attorneys who worked with her mother in the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Shiprock, N.M. As she grew older on the Navajo reservation town, she knew that she would one day become an attorney and serve her Navajo community.
Over the years, Bowman has done both and more. Today, the former district prosecutor for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice is the assistant director of the Office of Tribal Relations in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Forest Service.
Determination to succeed and a commitment to her goals have helped drive Bowman to success. As a high school student, she was disappointed that Navajo was not offered as a foreign language. As an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, Bowman was met with disappointment again because the school, which had a graduation requirement to fulfill a foreign language, did not offer Navajo.
So Bowman petitioned. Eventually, Dartmouth allowed her to study Navajo as her mandatory foreign language. She did – back home in New Mexico.
Bowman relied on Navajo during the day while working at the Navajo District court and studied the language at night. After several months, she developed a proficiency level high enough to fulfill her college requirement.
Eventually, she graduated from law school with a certificate in natural resources, an area of passion passed down from her grandfather, an important figure in her life. From him, Bowman, who is also the former editor of the Natural Resources Law Journal, learned to love and respect the land.
Since attaining her dream of becoming an attorney, Bowman has stayed committed to serving the American Indian and Alaskan Native community as a whole. She even once convinced the White House to send President Bill Clinton to Shiprock. After the President agreed to visit the reservation town, she helped him prepare for the trip by teaching him how to introduce himself in Navajo – an extremely important element of Navajo culture that includes explaining one’s family background.
It was a success.
At Shiprock, “the President gave his ethnic background in Navajo,” Bowman said. “Once he introduced himself, the community knew he cared and respected our ways. The cheering was deafening. It was as if he were a rock star.”
See what else Bowman has to say in the Forest Service special feature Faces of the Forest, a bi-weekly feature of the Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within the agency.