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Thomas Weathers figured the 9 p.m. phone call offering him stock in a Native American corporation had to be a scam. As a lawyer, he was skeptical to begin with. And he had no Indian relatives. The caller said he “was a private investigator from Alaska,” remembers Weathers. “He said, ‘Wow, I’ve been looking for you for eight years!’” The PI told Weathers he had inherited stock from his paternal grandfather, whose family were Aleuts from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Only descendants of Alaskan natives could own the stock, which the federal government gave to tribes as part of a land settlement. Weathers was just 6 years old when his father passed away, and he’d never known of his ancestry. His mother, who remarried, never discussed it, and she died when Weathers was in college. “That call completely changed my life,” says the 36-year-old attorney. When he took the call, in 1998, he was an associate at Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May in Oakland, Calif. Now he’s with a six-lawyer Indian law boutique, part of a new generation of Native American lawyers who specialize in representing tribes. Last year he was elected president of the National Native American Bar Association, and he’s a visiting lecturer on Indian law at University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. Weather’s professional journey started after the phone call. He began tracking down living relatives in Alaska. “I showed up there, not knowing anybody. Turns out I’m related to probably half the island,” says Weathers. He now returns each summer for Aleutian culture camp, where he learns how to harvest salmon, carve wooden visors and dance to native rhythms. While still at Crosby, Heafey, Weathers began to piece together an Indian law practice. In 2000, he attended a meeting for Native American lawyers in Albuquerque, N. M., where he met Patricia Sekaquaptewa, a Hopi, who worked at the Berkeley firm that would eventually become Alexander, Berkey, Williams & Weathers. She invited him to practice Indian law full time. After talking to his wife, Weathers agreed. Now he handles casino-related leases and contracts where his corporate law background comes in handy. His clients include the Sac and Fox Nation, the Lummi Nation and the Yurok Tribe. Right now, he’s working on a multimillion-dollar fuel tax case with the Winnebago tribe in Kansas. But Weathers says the most rewarding cases involve children. Drawing on the Indian Child Welfare Act, he helps kids who might otherwise end up in foster care to find support on the reservation. His work with kids helps him heal his own troubled past. Both his parents died from drug and alcohol overdoses. Weathers now sees the connection between his father’s addictions and those that still plague many Native American communities. Weathers wishes he had had an advocate or community helping him when he was young. “You feel like you’re helping the kid and helping keep the tribe together.”

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