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Press Release

Justice Department Selects First Ever Indian Country Legal Fellow to Serve in the District of Arizona

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
Legal fellow will work in the U.S. Attorney’s Indian Country Crime Section and with the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Prosecutor’s Office

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., announced today that Charisse Arce, of Bristol Bay, Alaska, has been selected as the first-ever Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Legal Fellow, part of the Attorney General’s Honors Program. 

Arce was chosen from a large pool of highly-qualified applicants and will be appointed to a three-year term position in the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona, where she will be assigned to the district’s Indian Country Crime Section.  Arce will also serve a portion of her appointment in the Pascua Yaqui tribal prosecutor’s office. 

This is the first year of the Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship within the Attorney General’s Honors Program, and it is awarded to an extraordinarily well-qualified new attorney with a deep interest in and enthusiasm for improving public safety in tribal communities.

“This is an investment in the future of the department, named for a beloved and extraordinary member of our DOJ family – and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Indians – who sadly passed away this summer, but devoted her career to advancing the federal government’s relationships with sovereign tribes.  This program exemplifies how we are seeking to institutionalize the department’s commitment to justice in Indian country,” said Attorney General Holder. “The Indian Country fellowship will give each candidate an opportunity to gain significant experience and exposure to the work of the Justice Department in Indian country, and in the long term help us build a cadre of legal talent in the department with expertise in federal Indian law.”

“We are excited to welcome Charisse Arce to the District of Arizona as the first Gayle Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship recipient,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona John S. Leonardo.  “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to making this inaugural fellowship a success for all involved and a model for future fellowships in Arizona and in districts around the country.  Ms. Arce has demonstrated a strong commitment to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and we look forward to having her in our Tucson office and working closely with the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe.”

Ms. Arce is currently a fellow at Bristol Bay Native Corporation, one of thirteen Alaska Native Regional Corporations created under federal law.  Ms. Arce received her law degree from Seattle University School of Law, where she was a member of the editorial staff for and published an article in the American Indian Law Journal.  During law school, Ms. Arce served as an extern for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, for the Washington State Supreme Court, and for the Department of Interior’s Office of the Solicitor.  She also worked as a legal research assistant for a law professor and for a private law firm.  Prior to law school, Ms. Arce graduated, cum laude, with a B.A. in Marketing from Seattle University. 

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe, located near Tucson, Arizona, is one of three tribes – along with the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, and the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon – participating in a pilot project under the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA 2013) to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over certain defendants, regardless of their Indian or non-Indian status, who commit acts of domestic violence or dating violence or violate certain protection orders in Indian country.  The pilot is authorized by the Department of Justice.  This new law generally takes effect on March 7, 2015, but also authorizes the pilot project to allow certain tribes to begin exercising special jurisdiction sooner.   Since the pilots began, more than 20 criminal cases have been charged by tribal prosecutors against non-Indian domestic violence offenders, and several have been convicted of domestic violence crimes. 

“The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is pleased to have the opportunity to partner with the District of Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Honors Program, through the Gaye L. Tenoso Indian Country Fellowship,” said Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman Peter Yucupicio. “We welcome the new Department of Justice fellow and look forward to a productive partnership as we fight violent crime, work to keep our community safe, and continue to implement the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction (SDVCJ).”

The Fellowship is named in honor of Department of Justice attorney, the late Gaye L. Tenoso. Gaye’s distinguished service to the Department and the people it serves spanned 30 years. For the last six years of her life Gaye served as the Deputy Director the Office of Tribal Justice. Gaye’s expertise in Federal Indian law and knowledge of tribes enabled her to be an exceptionally effective advisor on litigation and policy matters. She worked tirelessly to ensure that specific protections for American Indian women were included in VAWA 2013. Gaye also mentored many legal interns during her time at the Office of Tribal Justice, and was an inspiration and guide who left a deep impression on many young attorneys.

Read more about the work of the Department of Justice in Indian Country at

Updated December 4, 2014

Indian Country Law and Justice
Press Release Number: 14-1343