Michelle L. LaPena


Pit River Tribe, Tribal Citizen, former Tribal Council member
Member, California State Bar


Michelle L. LaPena is a member of the Pit River Tribe and a mother of three. She is an Indian law attorney that has twenty years of experience representing California Indian tribes. She represents tribes on a variety of legal matters including tribal gaming regulation, cultural resource protection, Indian child welfare, taxation, administrative law and general civil litigation involving tribal governments. She is extensively involved in developing statewide policy on gaming regulation, cultural resource protection, tribal taxation and cannabis operations. She has lectured at primary, secondary and university levels on topics related to California Indians and federal Indian law for over two decades. In addition, she has published a number of law review articles, essays and non-fiction articles on topics relative to her work with California Indian tribes. She received her B.A. in 1993 and her J.D. in 1998, both from the University of California, Davis. She recently graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing and is a recipient of the 2015 Truman Capote Creative Writing Fellowship and the American Indian College Fund Full Circle Award.


University of California, Davis – B.A., 1993

University of California, Davis – J.D., 1998



Poetry: “People of the Sun” and “National Treasures” Red Ink, An International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts, & Humanities, forthcoming.

“Buried in Shells” GIA Reader, A Journal on Arts Philanthropy, Volume 29, No 2, Fall 2018.

“Life Along the River” Waxwing Issue 14, Spring 2018.

“The Diggins” The Rumpus, Online Edition, June 10, 2017.

“Water and Oil” News from Native California, Winter 2017.

“Standing Rock, the Bundys, Leonard Peltier and the Search for Justice,” Indian Country Today, November 17, 2016.

 “Real Estate Transactions in California’s “Indian Country”: How to Conduct Business with California Indian Tribal Governments and Businesses,” Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine, January 2006 (Cover Story).

Book Review, “Negotiating Tribal Water Rights:  Fulfilling Promises in the Arid West,” by Bonnie G. Colby, John E. Thorson, and Sarah Britton; foreword by David H. Getches.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press, American Indian Cultural and Research Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1 (2005).

“A Healing Process,” reprinted in Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, University of Washington Press, Vol. 23, No. 2 (2002).

Book Review, “To Show Heart: Native American Self-Determination and Federal Indian Policy, 1960-75,” by George Pierre Castile, American Indian Cultural and Research Journal, Vol. No. (1999).

“Federal Land Management Practices and California Indians: A Proposal to Protect Native Plant Species,” Environs, UC Davis Environmental Law Review, June 1998.

 “A Healing Process,” Prized Writing 1992-1993, An Anthology from the University of California, 1993.

Contributing Editor, News from Native California, 1993-96.

Contact Info

Sacramento Office
Tel: (916) 353-1084
Fax: (916) 353-1085