Deborah Sanchez is Chumash, Tohono & Akimel O’odham and Raramuri American Indian and is very involved in her community. Deborah was the co-chair of the Barbareño Chumash Council for more than 10 years and has worked to maintain the annual ceremony of the Chumash crossing the ocean channel, in their traditional canoe from the mainland to Limuw (also known as Santa Cruz Island). She has organized and coordinated the island side of this annual event for many years and continues to assist in bringing her people back to their maritime culture.
Deborah studies and teaches the Šmuwič language (Chumash) and has composed several contemporary Šmuwič songs, created in the traditional style, honoring Chumash traditional beliefs and way of life, including mourning songs and songs of joy and wonder. She teaches the Šmuwič language to community members and has been teaching her language since 2010.
During her career as an attorney, Deborah was a volunteer for the Southern California Indian Center, handling issues ranging from Landlord-Tenant cases to the Indian Child Welfare Act. She was an attorney with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office for more than 18 years, primarily prosecuting child exploitation cases, before becoming a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge. She is now one of two indigenous judges presiding over teen court at an indigenous-based charter school in Los Angeles.
In addition to being acknowledged throughout her career as an attorney, Deborah has received community service awards from the American Indian Scholarship Fund (2007) and Project Amiga (2007); a Distinguished Alumni award from California State University, Long Beach (2008); the public service award from the Latino City Attorney’s Association (2012); was honored as one of the distinguished Native Americans by Southern California AIM and the California Indian Education Association (2012); received the Educational Service Award from Pukuu, an American Indian nonprofit (2015); the Heritage Award from the Aquarium of the Pacific for service to the Native American communities; and was selected as one of the ground-breaking stories for the Los Angeles County Law Library’s upcoming documentary (2016).
Deborah is a faculty member of American Indian Studies at California State University, Long Beach, teaching American Indians and the Law and also serves on the boards of various nonprofit organizations.