Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Kate Boyce 1971 '71

The beat of her own drum: Katharine Boyce ’71 builds practice in tribal law

Kate Boyce '71As a law partner at Patton Boggs LLP in Washington, D.C., Katharine Boyce’s days are not typically punctuated by the shake of a feather-tufted spear or the clink of beaded clothing.

Yet, on one extraordinary occasion in the early 1990s, there she stood amongst a whirlwind of color, feathers and tassels. In a circle of spectators, she stood awed as men danced—crouching, stamping, spinning, driven by a current of undulating voices and the thump of drums.

Boyce had arrived in Tahlequah, Okla., headquarters of the Cherokee Nation, for the groundbreaking of a new tribal health clinic and was then invited to this powwow, a tribal celebration deep with tradition, by Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller as a nod of thanks. Boyce had been instrumental in securing the federal funding for the new clinic, as well as funding to survey Arkansas riverbed lands so that the tribe could claim clear title and protect valuable oil, gas and other resources from trespass and theft.

She is the longest-serving female partner at Patton Boggs, now one of the largest law firms in the country. Her work with Indian tribes and other Native American organizations is a central part of a career that largely has been devoted to promoting and defending the interests of indigenous peoples. The roots trace back to Wheaton.

She came to Wheaton already politically active. Her mother was a passionate Democrat, and Boyce wore buttons and stuffed envelopes for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign as a sixth-grader.

Her interest in politics and women’s rights found a catalyst at Wheaton. Government 101, taught by Professor of Political Science Jay Goodman, inspired her to pursue a major in government. After graduation, Boyce moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for Congressmen James O’Hara and Brock Adams, gaining valuable legislative experience at a young age.

Continuing her education, she enrolled in law school at the Catholic University of America. Toward the end of her first year, she received a call from O’Hara, who had returned to the private sector as a partner at Patton Boggs. The firm was seeking a law clerk with legislative experience, and Boyce fit the bill. Juggling full-time work and school, she earned her J.D. in three years.

In 1979, she became an associate at Patton Boggs, focusing on public policy. Early in her career she developed an expertise in political and federal election law. By 1985, she had gotten involved in an area of law that changed her career focus.

Patton Boggs, which had previously represented the Navajo Nation, was hired by the defense contracting company owned by the Cherokee Nation. Boyce worked on several projects with the company’s CEO, who introduced her to then Deputy Chief Wilma Mankiller. Patton Boggs began a long-standing relationship with the tribe (the second-largest in the United States, after the Navajo) after Mankiller was elected principal chief and retained the firm. Boyce served as Mankiller’s Washington counsel for the eight years she was in office.

Developing additional tribal clients, Boyce founded Patton Boggs’s Native American law practice, which has since expanded into one of the leading Indian law practices in the country. For Boyce, the last 25 years of immersion in this unique legal field have been challenging and exciting.

“Many people don’t have a grasp of what tribal sovereignty is,” says Boyce, who has also represented the governments of Spain and Pakistan, among others. “The tribes are sovereign nations whose rights as sovereigns are recognized in the U.S. Constitution, treaties and statutes.”

The complex legal circumstances surrounding tribal rights and interests trace back to the early history of the United States. While tribes enjoy sovereign rights and the inalienable possession of their reservation lands, they struggle constantly to protect their lands or to develop them, notwithstanding rigid, paternalistic regulations, Boyce says.

“Lots of statutes and regulations that were intended to preserve tribes’ rights are old, sometimes vague and cumbersome, and always hard to change,” she says. Quality of life and economic opportunity remain elusive on most reservations, many of which are among the poorest areas of the country.

Much of Boyce’s work with Native American clients has focused on economic development and infrastructure on tribal lands. Her efforts have secured appropriations for new health clinics, water and sewer systems, road expansion, and incentives for Indian contractors. A favorite longtime client is the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, which operates assistance centers that help Native American and tribal-owned companies start and expand businesses.

Her initiatives have even gone beyond American tribes; she has worked on a pro bono basis with indigenous tribes in Panama to clarify their legal rights. She is also assisting a client on a project that will help native Panamanian Kuna Indians harvest timber—from beneath the surface of a lake.

Pro bono work is a tradition in law, but those who know Boyce say her interest in public service comes naturally.

“For Kate, charity and goodwill is an instinctive part of her professional and personal life,” says Tom Donaldson, president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS). Long the chair of the NOFAS board of directors, Boyce became involved in the 1990s because of the incidence rates on some Indian reservations. NOFAS works to prevent birth defects resulting from alcohol consumed by the mother during pregnancy, which the organization says is the nation’s leading preventable cause of developmental disabilities.

According to Donaldson, Boyce has organized many teams of Patton Boggs lawyers to assist NOFAS, including filing an amicus brief for NOFAS in support of a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court. The petition challenged the death sentence of a defendant who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. The defendant, Brandy Holmes—so named by her mother after her favorite drink—suffered from severe mental disabilities as a result of her condition. While the petition was denied, the NOFAS amicus brief helped bring attention to the serious impact of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. It was just one of the ways that Boyce has contributed to NOFAS’ cause, according to Donaldson.

“It’s her passionate dedication to the NOFAS mission that leads the organization, attracts others to the cause, and makes a difference to the individuals and families living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders,” he says.

Boyce became a partner at Patton Boggs in 1987. It is an achievement that she is proud to have accomplished without losing sight of her first priority—her family. She says she wants her four daughters and other women she has mentored to recognize that there are many career opportunities available for women, without sacrificing a family life—even within the tough and complex area of Washington law and politics.

“I wanted to become the first woman partner at Patton Boggs who stayed and built an enduring practice,” Boyce says. “Yet, when I came up for partnership, I was married and had three kids. To juggle family responsibilities and maintain a practice was really a challenge.”

She attributes much of her own success to her Wheaton education.

Professor Goodman, who has stayed in touch with Boyce over the years, says, “It’s no surprise that she has accomplished so much, and her friends at Wheaton also have done well. It was pretty clear that she was very smart.”

At Patton Boggs, her office is a testament to a varied, fascinating career in full swing. The walls and nearly every flat surface are crowded with artifacts from the countries and peoples she has represented. One item she proudly displays is a photograph of herself with Chief Mankiller. (The iconic Cherokee leader and Medal of Freedom winner died last year.)

“It was very satisfying representing the Cherokee Nation and particularly working with Chief Mankiller,” Boyce says. “She was a wonderful role model and humanitarian.”

As much as Boyce was honored to work with Mankiller, it was the chief who honored Boyce that day at the powwow in Tahlequah.

To Boyce’s surprise, Mankiller called her out of the ring of spectators. In her hands, the chief held forth a gift—a white shawl with long tassels, patterned with blue doves.

“It was beautiful and so unexpected,” Boyce says.

Rebecca Harvey discovers her career in science

A Wheaton education can take one in unexpected directions. Just ask Rebecca Harvey ’08.

Rebecca Harvey '08

Rebecca Harvey '08

When Harvey arrived at Wheaton as a freshman, she was planning to pursue a career in dentistry. Today she is an ecological manager at the Squam Lakes Association in New Hampshire, where she monitors water quality, researches environmental issues and leads educational outreach for the nonprofit conservation group.

Growing up in southern Maine, Harvey had never considered such a career, although she had volunteered for an animal refuge and enjoyed her AP chemistry class. An internship helped change her mind.

Wheaton had awarded her a Trustee Scholarship, which includes a stipend to pay for a summer experience. During Harvey’s sophomore year, biology professor Barbara Brennessel suggested to her that she use it to intern at the Cape Cod National Seashore, where Brennessel has done research. [Read more...]

Working to protect others

In New York City, Christopher Paquet ’03 has made the protection of lives his daily mission. As the intra-agency liaison officer for New York City’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response since July 2009, he plays an integral role in protecting more than nine million lives. His job entails working with the city’s leadership to develop and enhance the response capabilities to biological, natural and man-made disasters. Ensuring the safety of New York City is no small task, especially since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Christopher Paquet ’03

Christopher Paquet ’03

“Planning to respond to emergencies is never easy,” he says. “The unknowns are great, and the consequences for inadequate planning and response can lead to losses in life. It’s hard to forget that when doing my work every day. The work never ends and nothing is ever one hundred percent.”

But he loves his work. “My job is never boring. I often tell my family and friends that working here is an educational experience every day. Although I bring emergency management experience to the table, I work with world-renowned doctors and experts on very complex public health challenges. The H1N1 response was an opportunity for me to get a crash course on the spread and prevention of influenza. It was exciting to be a part of a response that I knew was helping the citizens of New York.”

Paquet graduated from Wheaton as a political science major, intending to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather as a politician. However, encounters with a different type of leadership sent him in a different direction. As a graduate student at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, he took on the heavy responsibility of managing a dorm of over 900 freshmen and 40 residential advisors, who helped the school through a crisis among the student body. During his second year at graduate school, he was given the opportunity to consult with the African Council for Sustainable Health Development, headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria. As part of a team of four, he was asked to assess and report on how to better manage health concerns for the Pan African Health Organization. [Read more...]

A taste of adventure

Betsey Dyer

Professor of Biology Betsey Dyer sniffs some edible greenery at her childhood farm in Rehoboth, Mass.

In the spring 2010 issue of the Quarterly, I wrote a story about “The Complete Amateur Naturalist” First Year Seminar, which was taught by Professor of Biology Betsey Dyer, in collaboration with Professor of Religion Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus. As part of my fact gathering, I eagerly accompanied the class and professors on a field trip to the Rehoboth farm where Dyer grew up.

It wasn’t enough for students to discuss and read about eating off the land in the classroom. Dyer and Brumberg-Kraus, two well-known campus foodies, wanted them to experience it. So Wheaton.

Orange mushroom

Orange mushroom

On a lovely day in September, reporter’s notebook in hand, I followed the group around the farm as they learned about various edible flowers and plants, including a really strange-looking orange mushroom growing from the side of a tree. (Brumberg-Kraus would later use one of those in a stew after a student discovered one on campus.)

At one point, as the group was sampling some sort of greenery from the ground and I was observing from my objective writer’s distance, Dyer suggested that I eat what they were eating. And faster than I could say, “Are you kidding me? No way,” she had popped the green whatever into my mouth! From what I remember (I’ve been trying to forget), she had a vague smile of satisfaction on her face as I munched in disbelief.

[Read more...]