Danna, we need to know – WHO ARE YOU? (yes, you can imagine me yelling this at you from across the room).
I am a Montana kid who grew up on a cattle ranch near Niarada, Montana. I have three siblings that all live in Western Montana. I live in Helena with my husband of seventeen years and our two middle schoolers. I am a lawyer. I have spent most my career in natural resource and Indian law – mostly in Montana but also in Washington DC. Most of my career has been in public service, including a tour as an Indian Country federal prosecutor and tribal liaison. Currently I am Chief Legal Counsel for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. I love my job.
I feel like I got a taste of your amazing, witty personality at a storytelling event in Helena where you shared a story you had written. You had the crowd both enthralled and in stiches. Has writing and humor always been a part of your life?
When I was a third grader I wanted to be a poet when I grew up. I dabble in writing but mostly I just read. I prefer non-fiction.
As to humor, yes, how can one survive without it?! I grew up laughing. I have a funny family. We all share a certain amount of irreverence that lends itself to a humorful good time.
My husband is the funniest person I know. I am never bored. I married the circus – lucky me!
Describe your perfect day.
Strong black coffee. A hike with my family in a beautiful place followed by a lazy afternoon of resting and reading. Cocktail hour followed by an epic dinner. Music. Midnight game of Scrabble. I’d go to bed victorious and smiling.
Now describe your perfect meal.
I would love to prepare and enjoy a multicourse meal with Dolly Parton. But then again maybe we’d scrap that plan and just eat cheese and crackers. My guess is that there would be plenty of full bodied wine (pun intended) or maybe Black Velvet ditches. I doubt Dolly actually cooks, so if we decided we needed something in addition to cheese and crackers, I’d take the lead. I’d make her chop veggies. The kids would be in an out of the kitchen, grabbing food on the fly. My husband would regale us with commentary on the news of the day. We’d cuss and laugh and tell secrets.
My kitchen is sub-par, but it’s my happy place.
Do you have a favorite author or book that you keep going back to?
I have a strong affinity for anything written by Louise Erdrich. I love her writing style and I love her stories. She has important things to say about the West but I mostly love her characters. Her characters are very relatable to me.
What was the last TV show or movie that really impacted you and why?
My daughter insisted that we watch Once Upon a Time together. It’s a TV drama that mixes fairytale characters and realms. I watch very few shows and movies and this series was not really my thing, but I will literally do anything my kids ask me to do if it means spending time with them. I loved learning about what entertained my daughter. I loved hanging out and eating scads of popcorns with her.
If you could witness any event of the past, present, or future, what would it be?
This question was so hard, I asked My Village People (see answer below) for help. My friend Melissa had an immediate response that I love:
“Our daughter becoming President of the USA.”
No pressure, Little One . . . but you can do it!
We always say there is no right or wrong way to be a woman in this state. That’s the beauty of it! What do you love most about Montana and living here?
It’s my homeland. It’s where my ancestors are buried. It’s where I can most be myself. It’s my heart home.
Is there a woman in this state who you look up to? (other than a family member)
My mother Cheryl is a saint. She is selfless, reliable, strong, smart, Godly, and she is funny – even though she’d never think of herself in that way. She is the person every person would agree should be on your jury.
But since you asked me to identify someone other than a family member, I’m going with Bureau of Indian Affairs Victim Specialist Wendy Bremner. Wendy assists tribal members affected by crimes, particularly those perpetrated against Native women. She lives in Browning. It’s a very hard job and she does it with grace and wisdom. More than once I’ve witnessed Wendy tell young girls “we are Blackfeet woman – we are resilient!” She could convince survivors that they were brave; that they are worthy of love – worthy of services; and that they should pursue justice.
Wendy has six children. She has a masters degree. She’s on the school board. She has a great singing voice. She’s funny. She’s respected. She’s good at living.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I have a karaoke stage name: MaDanna
Have you ever come up against any barriers or ceilings in your career? How did you handle it?
After baby #2 my law firm agreed to let me be a contractor for them rather than a fulltime employee – in other words, I took myself off the partnership track so I could have work/life balance. I felt like I sold my sisters out – that I was part of the reason there isn’t parity in pay in my profession. But my wise sister-in-law advised that I needed to do what was right for my family. What simple but important advice! I was enabled to keep some skin in the game but also manage my growing family. Eventually I moved to Montana where no employer cared that I had spent a couple of years working 65% time.
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to your 20-yr-old self?
You will find yourself in situations where you might think, for a few seconds . . . maybe minutes . . .that you are an imposter. Get that out of your head — you belong.
Let’s talk about friendship. What role has friendship played in your life?
I like to say that “It takes the Village People.” Find your Village People, love them, help them, protect them, challenge them, be kind to them, as they are to you. I’m not sure I’d make it through life unscathed without them. It certainly wouldn’t be as fun.
I saw that you recently received the 2018 State Excellence in Leadership Award by the Interagency Council for Change by Women. Do you consider this to be one of the greatest accomplishments of your life?
It felt great to be nominated by my colleagues and acknowledged that I promote a work environment that believes in excellence and is family friendly. I’m delighted for the acknowledgement but I’m sure hoping my kiddos thrive today and tomorrow – that they are and become their own best selves. Isn’t that the epitome of success?
Final question. And your answer can be silly or serious, but what is saving your life right now?
My husband. He carries so much of the day-to-day domestic load. And he’s a wonderful dad. I’m not sure my son and I would survive 8th grade Algebra without his steady hand.
Also, music is saving my life. I recently was accepted to sing with the Helena Symphony Choir. I love being a member of a choir. Singing gets me out of my head. It takes a ton of effort to focus on the singular task of harmonizing with my colleagues. What an important goal — creating and sharing beautiful music!
Thank God for music. Thank God for art. It will be the artists that save our world.