Jim Keedy Walks On

Jim Keedy testifying before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2007.

Traverse City Record-Eagle notice here. From the statement issued by Michigan Indian Legal Services:

Jim Keedy was living proof of how fine a person can be. He was an excellent boss to the people and programs in his charge and a devoted husband to his wife, Cathy. He was also a good friend to many and a great colleague. The character of his life might be summed up in a few words: sincere, earnest, loyal.
Jim was a long-time poverty law attorney and was dedicated to the ideal of accessible legal aid, developing extensive outreach programs for Native rural communities in remote areas. He was also passionate about the importance of children being able to remain in their families and was an early champion for parents under the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act. Under Jim’s leadership, MILS provided assistance to 5 tribes obtaining federal recognition – the government-to-government relationship that allows for tribes to be able to successfully provide for their communities. He also believed in responsible government and was a champion for the individuals facing the weight of the system on them in tribal court cases. We will long remember Jim’s tenacity, and ability to meet difficult challenges.
Jim was a brilliant and visionary leader who achieved recognition for his work in the underserved Native American communities. Jim was the proud recipient of State Bar of Michigan American Indian Law Section’s Tecuseh Peacekeeping Award in 2004; the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) Foster Care Review Board’s Parent Attorney of the Year in 2018; the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s Pierce-Hickerson Award also in 2018; and the Michigan State Bar Foundation’s Access to Justice Award in 2020.
As Executive Director at Michigan Indian Legal Services for over 30 years, Jim led his staff in such a way that he exemplified leadership. He gave inspiration to his team and others he worked with. The Jim we remember was always courteous, kind, and generous. He had a beautiful smile, a sense of humor, and a gentle demeanor.
Jim was a genuinely wonderful individual—one we will miss greatly. As an attorney, Jim worked with passion, integrity, and honor. By his death, all the people who knew him will miss a brilliant individual with a rare friendliness and charm of personality. Our sorrow is slightly lessened with the comforting thought that we had the privilege of knowing him.
Baa Maa Pii, Jim.

Jim was a well-known figure in Michigan Indian country. I first became aware of him when he worked on the federal recognition for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. He testified before Congress in 1993 and 1994 in support:

Herald-Palladium, Sept. 1, 1993
1993 House testimony

Years later, Jim continued to work on federal recognition for the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians, a petition that is still pending. Testifying before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2007, after he and Ron Yob dropped of 21 banker’s boxes worth of materials, he predicted it would be 15-20 years before Grand River would get a decision:

Jim also represented Native families in Indian child welfare matters, probably too many to count.

Jim also worked to prevent the State of Michigan from cutting state aid to Michigan tribal members who received gaming per capita payments:

South Bend Tribune, Jan. 31, 1995

Luckily for all of us, in 2019 Jim wrote “The History of Indian Legal Services” in the August 2019 issue of the Michigan Bar Journal:

In 2018, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association awarded Jim the Pierce Hickerson award (“Honoring outstanding contributions to the advancement or preservation of Native American rights, the Pierce-Hickerson Award was created in 2003 by advocates in civil legal assistance programs to pay homage to the legacies of Julian Pierce and Robert Hickerson for their outstanding advocacy in pursuit of justice for Native Americans. Pierce was a Lumbee Indian who served as executive director of Lumbee River Legal Services in Pembroke, North Carolina, from 1978 until 1988. Hickerson served as director of Alaska Legal Services Corporation for 20 years and prior to that was director of the Oklahoma Legal Services Center.”):

The American Indian Law Section of the Michigan State Bar also awarded Jim the Tecumseh Peace Keeping Award: