Sarah Wheelock, an attorney for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, will become the first Native American judge to serve on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Wheelock was appointed by Gov. Tim Walz to fill the vacancy left by Judge Carol A. Hooten as she retires. The seat is designated for a resident of the Second Congressional District, according to a press release from the office of Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.
“In her time serving as legal counsel for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and tribes across the nation, Ms. Wheelock has repeatedly shown that she is a dedicated public servant committed to advancing the common good,” stated Walz. “She is well prepared to join the Court of Appeals.”
Flanagan stated that she was thrilled with the appointment due to Wheelock’s extensive legal background.
“Sarah Wheelock is a brilliant legal mind with a deep understanding of the laws of the land,” stated Flanagan in the press release. “Her life experience, longstanding service to her community, and her extensive legal background provide her with a unique perspective that will be invaluable in her new position. I’m thrilled by her appointment.”
Casey Matthiesen, President of the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, pointed out that Wheelock’s appointment to the state appellate court was a historic moment.
“The Minnesota American Indian Bar Association celebrates the historic appointment of Sarah Wheelock to the Court of Appeals,” stated Matthiesen. “With this appointment, American Indians now serve at every level of the state judiciary. Sarah Wheelock is an exceptional lawyer, and we are confident that she will serve in the judiciary with distinction.”
‘A step in the
right direction’Wheelock, who earned her B.A. and J.D. from the University of Iowa, currently serves as legal counsel for the SMSC in Prior Lake. She previously worked as an adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline College of Law and as an appellate judge for the White Earth Band of Chippewa Court of Appeals. Her experience includes litigation in tribal, federal and state courts, as well as economic development and finance work.
Wheelock is a member of the Meskwaki Nation (federally recognized as the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa where she was born and raised). She is a member and past vice president of the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, member of the National Native American Bar Association and member of the Federal Bar Association. She previously served as a member of the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection. Her community involvement includes serving as a director on the board for the Division of Indian Work, as an assistant director of Twin Cities Native Lacrosse and as the chair of the American Indian Parent Action Committee for the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District.
When it comes to her appointment, Wheelock said she is excited to be able to represent her community.
“It feels incredible. I’m still processing this moment. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since the announcement came out. So many people have reached out and been incredibly supportive and positive and it’s really exciting as I think it would be for anybody in their career,” said Wheelock. “I’m just one individual, so, I can’t speak for all Indigenous people, but I think it’s meaningful to be the first Indigenous person on the court. With my appointment, we now have an Indigenous person serving on all three levels of the state court system.
“That is significant because the state of Minnesota has 11 tribes and we’re a part of the communities here. We’re a part of the fabric of the people that make up Minnesota and it’s important for the courts to reflect that, to reflect the people that they serve. This is a step in that direction.”
Wheelock said she hopes she can make people proud while continuing to serve the community.
“In terms of it being historic, that is exciting as well. It’s still sinking in,” said Wheelock. “All I can hope is that I will make people proud that people will know that I am grounded and that I am interested in continuing a life of service which is what I believe I’ve been doing with my career throughout the last 17 years I’ve been practicing.”
and goalsWheelock said she has always been an overachiever since she was a young girl. She graduated as valedictorian of her high school and set her dreams to practicing medicine before she made the switch to law.
That’s when Wheelock submitted an application to the University of Iowa, the only university she applied to, and was accepted on the first try.
“I think I even applied after the deadlines had all passed because I was really wavering on what I really wanted to do and I got in,” said Wheelock. “I only applied at Iowa and the rest is history.”
After graduating from college and working with different law firms, Wheelock said Minnesota has always been her home away from home and decided she and her family would move.
“I was here (Minnesota) for five years then we went back to Iowa to raise our young children. We went back to Iowa for about eight years but we really missed it up here. Once the kids were a bit older, we intentionally made the decision to move back here,” said Wheelock. “I’ll never forget driving back for my first day of work at the Shakopee community. It felt like I was finally really coming back home. Minnesota is definitely home for us and where we want to finish raising the kids.”
Wheelock and her husband, Barry, recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary and have two children. The family is also currently hosting a foreign exchange student this year.
Wheelock said now that she is appointed as a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, she has a lot of goals she would like to set for herself.
“As a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, I hope to bring my skills to bare on the cases that come before the court and to be the person who continues to strive for justice and that sets an example for others,” she said. “I’m really interested in mentoring the next generation of attorneys and judges and people who are interested in working for a better world. I hope that I can do the kind of work that really leaves a legacy, that people really feel they are heard in our court systems and really cultivating the trust of people in our courts and in particular the court of appeals. That’s my dream, that’s my hope and that’s my goal.”