Back to The Forefront
July 7, 2011
NCAI calls for the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to Consider the Federal Obligations to Indian Tribes
NCAI calls for the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to Consider the Federal Obligations to Indian Tribes

Pioneer of Federal Indian Law, David Getches, Passes Away; Remembered for Forging "A Revolution in Federal Indian law"

David Getches, 68, a leading American Indian rights lawyer, legal scholar, and founding Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), passed away at his home on Tuesday July 5, 2011 from pancreatic cancer. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has posthumously awarded the NCAI Lifetime Achievement Award to Mr. Getches; one of the highest honors given by the nation's oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization.

"David Getches forged a revolution in federal Indian law that led to a new respect for the rights of Indian tribes in courthouses throughout the nation," said Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI. "He was an exceptional man. Across Indian Country, Mr. Getches will be remembered as a great friend and brother to Native people. NCAI extends our condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues for this profound loss."

The NCAI Board learned of David Getches' declining health last week and they reached an immediate, unanimous decision to recognize his lifelong contribution to American Indian law and tribal sovereignty. NCAI's Lifetime Achievement Award is given to those outstanding individuals who honor the place of American Indian nations, cultures and governments through a lifetime of work and personal dedication that produce results of historic proportions.

As the founding Executive Director of NARF, he was responsible for developing the staff, funding, and program of the organization, the leading and most influential nonprofit Indian-interest law firm. Getches litigated major cases involving Native rights, including the Northwest Indian fishing rights case (United States v. Washington, also known as "the Boldt decision"), which stands today as the leading case on the enforcement of tribal treaty rights. Getches also litigated a case on behalf of the Inupiaq to establish the North Slope Borough, the largest municipality in the world, which includes the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Other cases he has been involved with have dealt with water rights, land claims, federal trust responsibilities, environmental issues, education, and civil rights on behalf of Native American clients throughout the country.

Getches most recently served as the Dean of the University of Colorado Law School since 2003 and has taught at the school since 1979. He took two leaves from the University of Colorado, first to serve as the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources from 1983 to 1987, and then to serve as a special consultant to the Secretary of the Interior in 1996.

A national authority on natural resources and Indian law issues, Getches taught and wrote widely on water law, public land law, environmental law, and Indian law. Getches has published several books, written many articles and book chapters that appear in diverse scholarly and popular sources, including recent articles calling for legal reform regarding the Colorado River and criticizing the Supreme Court's departure from traditional principles in Indian law.

The NCAI Lifetime Achievement Award reads:

"National Congress of American Indians
Lifetime Achievement Award

David Getches, Founder of the Native American Rights Fund

Defender and Advocate for Tribal Sovereignty,
Treaty Rights and the Federal Trust Responsibility

Your piercing intelligence, diligent work and compassion for the Native cause fostered a legal revolution and brought hope and justice to Indian communities nationwide. We thank you and lift you up in our hearts."

Footer Zig