Nelva attended Yale University and the University of Oklahoma College of Law. As an undergraduate, Nelva was a Neustadt Fellow and a student editor for World Literature Today. She graduated with distinction, majoring in English with a minor in Native American Studies. Nelva was a member of the Native American Law Student Association and the American Indian Law Review. She was a fellow with the American Indian Graduate Center and was the recipient of the Justice Harry L.S. Halley Scholarship. Nelva received a Certificate of Achievement from the University of Oklahoma College of Law, Center for the Study of American Indian Law and Policy. She interned for Hobbs, Strauss, Dean and Walker in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma Indian Legal Services. Nelva interned for John D. Wheeler & Associates in 2006. Nelva was admitted to the New Mexico Bar in 2007, the Federal Bar in 2018, and is a member of the American Bar Association.
Since joining the firm, Nelva’s focus has been on Federal Indian law and representation of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. She has been involved extensively in the drafting of tribal legislation; in particular, she took the lead role in the drafting of the Tribe’s sex offender registration laws, elder abuse code, domestic violence laws, foster care licensing regulations, and child support enforcement laws. She regularly provides legal support to tribal courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement. Nelva also has expertise in the area of employment law and led the revamping of the Tribe’s employee policies and procedures in 2011. She has helped the Tribe in both cultural and natural resource protection matters. Nelva provides training to tribal staff and others on various legal topics on an on-going basis. She has represented the Tribe in its various dealings with the State of New Mexico and the federal government on numerous occasions.
Nelva also focuses on representation of a number of businesses and entities owned and operated by the Tribe including the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino, the Mescalero Care Center (a nursing home and assisted living facility), Four Directions Treatment and Recovery Center (an in-patient alcohol and substance abuse rehabilitation facility), Mescalero Apache Fire and Rescue (fire, emergency, and ambulance services), and Mescalero Apache Schools (a Bureau of Indian Education funded elementary/high school). She helped the Tribe to negotiate its state-gaming compact and provides legal counsel on a number of gaming related issues. Nelva participated in large debt refinancing for the Inn in 2010 and 2013. She has negotiated countless other commercial and other contracts for the Tribe and its sub-entities. She recently assisted the Tribe in obtaining a grant from the Economic Development Administration and provides strategic and other planning support to the Tribe.
Nelva was born and raised on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. She is the mother of two children, Blu (17) and Amara (6). Her husband of almost 20 years, Andrew Lancaster, is an endocrinologist who provides services at the Indian Health Service diabetes clinic on the Reservation. She finds her job rewarding and plans to continue to work for her Tribe for the remainder of her career.