Native American Chumash Tray and baskets


Honoring California’s Native American Judges: Judge Deborah Sanchez

Part four in a series honoring Native American judges on the California bench.
Nov 30, 2023
Deborah Sanchez is the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, Inc. (SGF) Board Secretary/Treasurer and has committed her life to the sacred work of cultural and language revitalization, as well as women's leadership in local, national, and global arenas. (Credit / source: photo by Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, artistry / graphic work by Eli Bargas)


[Feature 1] [Feature 2] [Feature 3] [Feature 4]

A judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court since 2007, the Honorable Deborah L. Sanchez is Chumash, O’odham, and Raramúri American Indian, whose peoples have origins in central coastal California, Arizona, and Northern Mexico, respectively.  

Judge Sanchez has received several awards for her work in the Native American community. She volunteered with the Southern California Indian Center, handling a variety of issues from cases involving the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to landlord-tenant relations. She has been teaching a Chumash tribal language called Šmuwič to her community since 2010, even composing songs from the language. She has taught an American Indian Studies course at California State University, Long Beach for ten years and serves on nonprofit boards involving indigenous peoples.

Several years ago, Judge Sanchez spoke about her Chumash background and the Šmuwič language in an emotional video for CSU Long Beach. She said, “It’s important for me to speak the language because it expands the culture, our point of view, and our ways of looking at things...I think that it’s transformative in the sense that our people can understand that we don’t have to fit in to these ways of being and looking at the world that are not ours.” 

In the years since this video was filmed, Šmuwič language programs have expanded with additional beginner classes taught by Judge Sanchez's former students, an advanced class taught by Judge Sanchez, and more conversational elements. There are now language reclamation and revitalization programs for some of the other Chumash languages.

Judge Sanchez is currently in a Master's program for Linguistics, which she began in Fall 2021.

This November, California courts and the Judicial Council of California join the nation in recognizing National Native American Heritage Month.

  • According to the most recent U.S. Census data, California is home to more people of American Indian/Alaska Native heritage than any other state.
  • Currently 109 federally recognized Indian tribes in California and several non-federally recognized tribes petitioned for federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Federal Recognition
  • California has 27 tribal courts, serving approximately 40 tribes.
  • The Judicial Council provides staff to the Tribal Court-State Court Forum, as well as education and technical assistance on the Indian Child Welfare Act, violence prevention, and tribal justice systems.