Grad discovered passion for Indian child welfare at NSU
Today, Kace Rodwell, a Northeastern State University graduate, strives to protect tribal members in her community. Originally from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Rodwell first attended college in North Carolina where she experienced racism and a culture shock before deciding to move back home to complete her degree. In her home state, Rodwell found NSU as well as a zeal for legal work that protects Indian children and families.
Studying criminal justice at Northeastern, Rodwell was surrounded by people who understood her culture and tribe. Feeling like an outsider on campus was no longer a struggle thanks to NSU's inclusive environment.
“It felt like a homecoming being with classmates from high school,” Rodwell said. “It was nice seeing people on campus that looked like me and had similar experiences to share with one another.”
Even more so, Northeastern helped Rodwell along her educational journey while being married with two children. NSU offers online and evening classes, which allowed her to balance college and motherhood.
“My daughter would be dancing in the background to Frozen while I worked on biology homework,” Rodwell said. “I had the flexibility to study while my children napped and have my family help during my evening classes.”
While working on her degree, Rodwell encountered a mentor along the way. Professor Diane Hammons gave insight into life as a lawyer and connected Rodwell to LSAT resources and fee waivers.
“Professor Hammons was someone I could talk to after graduation about law school and the struggles of being a Cherokee woman in the legal field,” Rodwell said. “It was empowering to have real answers to my concerns as I began my career journey.”
After graduating from Oklahoma City University School of Law, Rodwell completed a two-year fellowship working to reunite families whose children were removed from their care. Many of her clients dealt with domestic abuse and mental health struggles. Although the cases were taxing, she says it was all worth it.
Today, Rodwell works at the Oklahoma Indian Legal Services as a staff attorney. She serves on the Oklahoma Indian Bar Association board while working with the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Association to improve court systems and ensure the Indian Child Welfare Act is being adhered to by the courts.
“Even though we are in 2021, there are still discriminatory practices in our legal system. As a lawyer, I’ve fought against harmful stereotypes from other practitioners and even from the Judicial bench. I know if I’m facing this treatment as an attorney, who knows what treatment my clients were receiving before I got on the case.”
Kace Rodwell with her husband, Jacoby, and her two daughters, Jordan and Skye.
Outside of work, Rodwell enjoys spending time with her family, relieving stress and immersing her children in their Cherokee culture.
“I like to do beadwork, hatchet throwing and involve my children in our culture through tribal activities,” Rodwell said. “My daughters and I do spa days on the weekend to relieve the stress of work and school.”
An example of the successful leaders RUSO schools graduate each year, NSU helped Rodwell thrive as a nontraditional student.
“NSU allowed me to be myself, be a mom, and I could put my family first,” Rodwell said. “The university provided school, life and work balance because of the cultural resources. I didn’t have to be a cookie-cutter attorney; I got to be the lawyer I wanted to be.”