Rod Lewis (PLSI ‘69) Walks On

Here is “Negotiator on Gila River water rights settlement dies.

And “Gila River Indian Community mourns death of tribal leader.

From Mario Gonzales:

Rod Lewis was married to my cousin Willardene Poor Bear-Lewis.  I started law school  with him in a pre-law program for Indian students at the University of New Mexico School of Law in the Summer of 1969.  Rod enrolled in the UCLA Law School and I enrolled in the University of North Dakota School of law in the fall of 1969 and we both graduated from law school in 1972.

I would like to mention a few of our classmates from the UNM School of Law summer law program of 1969 who went on the have distinguished careers:  Tom Fredericks, John Sinclair, Richard Trudell, Ralph Keen, George Goodwin, John Oguin, Gary Kimble, and Phil LaCourse.  Movie actor and musician Floyd Westerman was also one of our classmates.

Richard Trudell arranged for us to attend two Indian law classes at the Catholic University School of Law in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 1971.  Graham Belle was our law professor (he was related to Alexander Graham Belle — inventor of the telephone).  Trudell wanted us to get some exposure to the roles law firms, federal agencies and Congress play in Indian affairs on a national level.

Rod Lewis got a job with the Interior Department and I got a job with the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Kampleman at the Watergate 600.  We worked during the day and attended Graham Belle’s Indian law classes in the evening.  Rod liked to tease and would sometimes call me and pretend he was someone else, and we would sometimes have lunch together at the Interior Department cafeteria with other Indian law students.

I also recall that my wife and I (and our three children) had trouble finding a place to rent for the summer and Rod and Willardene invited us to stay with them in Reston, Virginia until we could find our own place to rent.

Richard Trudell and Alan Parker started the American Indian Lawyer Training Program (AILTP) and began publishing the Indian Law Reporter, one of our main sources of Indian law in the 1970s.  Trudell and Parker also started a program to get four newly graduated Indian lawyers into private practice and selected four individuals for the program:  Rod Lewis (Gila River), Louis Denetsosie (Navajo), Larry Echohawk (Pawnee) and I (Oglala Sioux).

Trudell and Parker also set up a class for the four of us on law office management in Los Angeles, California with LA attorney Jay Foonberg as our instructor.  Rod set up his law office in Sacaton, Arizona and I set mine up in Martin, S.D.  in 1975.

In 19778, I became an Oglala Sioux tribal attorney and moved to Pine Ridge, S.D.  Louis Denetsosie set up his law office in Ft. Defiance, Arizona and I believe Larry Echohawk set up his law office in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Louis later became the attorney General of the Navajo Nation and Larry became the Attorney General of the State of Idaho.  And Rod, of course, became one of the nation’s outstanding Indian litigators and Indian water rights expert.

I would like to close by saying that I have always been so proud of Rod Lewis and his accomplishments in Indian law and the accomplishment of his family members; Willardene also became an attorney and an administrative law judge, and their son Steven is now serving as Governor of the Gila River Tribe.