Ambree Shelton Submitted Photo

Ambree Shelton, of Broken Bow, served as the only intern for the Choctaw Nation Judicial Center in 2021.

The future is bright for Ambree Shelton

By Kendra Germany-Wall
January 1, 2022

In mid-April 2005, the course of Ambree Shelton’s life changed drastically.

Life circumstances and financial trouble left Shelton, her mother and her brother alone and in a tight spot.

“Sitting in the parking lot of a Walmart as a measly four-year-old, I watched my mother cry,” explained Shelton. “She cried because we genuinely had nothing but the clothes we were wearing. While we sat in front of the Walmart entrance, a lady by the name of Kathryn approached us and would be the stepping block we needed to get back on our feet.”

According to Shelton, Kathryn was a social worker for the Choctaw Nation who gave her family a ride to the only homeless shelter in town, where they stayed for four months.

“I remember how kind the ladies who ran the homeless shelter were, as they never failed to make mini pancakes for my brother and me,” said Shelton. “I thought of it as the mansion, never once thinking we were homeless and barely getting by.”

After Shelton’s mother found a stable job, they moved away from the “mansion” into a trailer house where we lived for a large portion of the remainder of Shelton’s childhood.

Shelton spoke fondly of that period of her life.

“It was this time in my life where I watched my mother go back to school to get her degree and continue to strive for more as a family. The most prominent role model in my life as a child, she channeled an inner prosperity in life that I wanted, too,” Shelton explained.

Shelton says she got her first job when she was 16 years old because she liked the thought of being able to earn her own income.

“I knew all too well about the stereotype of Native Americans in my hometown never making it out, and that thought struck a chord in me to persevere,” said Shelton.

She tutored three times a week during the school year, all four years of high school.

“I was working hard for that goal of making sure I was not a high school dropout, explained Shelton.

While Shelton was in high school her mother moved her family into their dream house.

Her mother was Shelton’s role model.

“She broke a barrier most never get through, and it only pushed me to start thinking about life after high school,” said Shelton. “I longed for a future where life was anything but ordinary; however, no matter how far and fast I found myself running toward it my past stayed close behind because I kept looking back.”

It wasn’t until she was accepted into her top choice university, the University of Oklahoma, that Shelton felt her future taking shape.

Shelton was given academic scholarships that helped her pay for college. During her freshman year, Shelton also got a job, continuing her strong work ethic.

While considering academic career paths, Shelton landed on practicing law.

“Being someone who pushes to reach goals that are not always clearly visible, my tenacity for a career in the legal field felt apparent,” explained Shelton.

Shelton was selected as the only intern for the Judicial Branch of the Choctaw Nation in 2021. She describes her time with the judicial branch as “a whirlwind of firsthand experience into how a sovereign nation conforms to the laws of Oklahoma.”

According to Shelton, she learned a lot during her time at the Nation.

“I learned many values and traits that come with being in any part of the justice system. I know how immeasurable some people can be and how morally valued others are,” said Shelton.

According to Shelton, her internship sparked a desire to uphold the law and help tribal members.

“Tribal members, regardless of status, deserve high-quality legal aid, and that is what I plan to give them as a tribal prosecutor in the future,” stated Shelton.

After speaking with Chief Gary Batton this summer, they agreed that the legal system isn’t tailored for tribal members.

Chief Batton encouraged Shelton to work for the Nation after law school, a goal she is highly considering.

Her life experience helps her empathize and relate to those she would represent in the future.

“I have seen firsthand how having a bad financial history can impact where you go in life. I know how societal influences can labor someone into their own expectations of where they think they will end up; however, I also know how far I have come means a lot, not only to my mother but also to myself,” explained Shelton. “I am proud of being the first of my family to attend a large four-year institution and to go beyond that to attend the highly respected University of Oklahoma College of Law. I can feel my past stay far behind me as I refuse to look back.”

Shelton has some advice for others who might find themselves in a situation as she was at an early age.

“It was hard growing up, but I wanted it (success), and I think that makes a difference. I had people around me that helped. I think making sure that you find at least one person who can kind of be that guide for you, that’s all you need to kind of like, push yourself to do more,” explained Shelton.

According to Shelton, having a support system is essential, no matter how small.

“It was definitely not an individual thing. I had help from the Choctaw Nation, my counselors and the people around me to help push me here. You don’t have to do it all alone; people are there to help you,” said Shelton. “I know it sounds cliché, but if you want it hard enough, you can get there.

For more information on Choctaw Nation academic services and the internship program, visit choctawnation.com.