September 01, 2017

Human Rights Heroes

by Wilson Adam Schooley

"Hero” is not a word to wield lightly. We typically choose just one to honor in each issue. But the field we cover this issue is full of underappreciated champions. So, in this issue of Human Rights, we honor four extraordinary lawyers for their work in Indian Country.

Kirke Kickingbird, of the Kiowa Tribe, is the first Native American to chair the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and was the first elected to the ABA Board of Governors. He is a former president of the Native American Bar Association and past board chair of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services. He has devoted his entire career to improving the lives of Native American people. His many roles in that effort include general counsel to the U.S. Congress American Indian Policy Review Commission, whose report has shaped Indian policy since 1977. He has been chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, and special counsel on Indian Affairs to Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating. Kirke has written extensively on Indian law, including One Hundred Million Acres and Indians and the U.S. Constitution: A Forgotten Legacy, which was honored by the U.S. Bicentennial Commission.

Mary Smith, a member of the Cherokee Nation and secretary -elect of the ABA, is the first Native American officer in ABA history. Like Kirke, she is a past president of the Native American Bar Association, where she led a landmark study of Native Americans in the legal profession. She headed the Indian Health Service, which she joined to honor her grandmother, born in 1905, who had 16 siblings, six of whom did not live past the age of three because of the lack of adequate health care. Mary recently visited the land where her grandmother was born and found a small cemetery with unmarked graves—surely the graves of her six great aunts and uncles—and wondered what difference her ancestors would have made in our world had they lived. She believes Indian Country is at a defining moment in our nation’s history and that nothing is more central to the future of Native people than health care—a fundamental human right.

Finally, we honor two men with mighty legacies in federal Indian law who died within weeks of each other this year: Charlie Hobbs and Bobo Dean. They were both at the forefront of developments in the law that led to the successful self-determination era we are in today.

Charlie, who began as a clerk for then Circuit Court Judge Warren Burger, was a named attorney in over 100 cases resulting in written decisions on Indian rights and argued five Indian law cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He litigated landmark cases like United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206 (1983), establishing the right of tribes to damages due to the federal government’s mismanagement of trust assets, and Menominee Tribe v. United States, 391 U.S. 404 (1968), holding that the tribe kept its existence though its status as federally recognized was terminated by Congress. Charlie was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the DC Chapter of the Native American Bar Association.

Bobo was a pioneer in the field of Indian self-determination and deeply involved in drafting and implementing the Indian Self- Determination and Education Assistance Act. He had a BA and JD from Yale University, and was a Rhodes Scholar. He worked with tribes all around the country, including Florida’s Miccosukee Tribe, to negotiate the first contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs; tribes in Alaska as they became among the first to exercise their rights under the Self-Determination Act; and tribal organizations in Alaska as they negotiated the Alaska Tribal Health Compact, which transferred virtually all Indian Health Service programs to tribal control. Both men combined brilliant minds with courtly charm and will be profoundly missed.

Wilson Adam Schooley is a reformed trial lawyer, current certified appellate specialist, actor, author, and law professor in San Diego, California.

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