Leading Native American rights lawyer at 68

July 7, 2011 - 11:29 AM

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — David Getches, a leading American Indian rights lawyer and former dean of the University of Colorado School of Law, has died. He was 68.

The Boulder Daily Camera reports that university officials say Getches died at his home Tuesday of pancreatic cancer. He had stepped down as dean of the law school at the end of June to rejoin the faculty.

Getches moved to Colorado in 1970 to become the founding executive director of the Boulder-based Native American Rights Fund. He also served as executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources from 1983 to 1987.

Among American Indian rights cases litigated by Getches, the 1974 United States v. Washington case is cited by the National Congress of American Indians as the leading case on enforcement of tribal treaty rights. That case involved the fishing rights of Northwest tribes granted under treaties signed in the 1800s.

"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," Jefferson Keel, president of the American Indian group. "Mr. Getches will be remembered as a great friend and brother to Native people."

As a professor at CU, Getches taught natural resources law, including water, pollution, environmental and American Indian public lands law. Recent academic projects included work on Supreme Court Indian law decision-making, as well as water law involving the Colorado River and indigenous people in Latin America.

Former U.S. Attorney Troy Eid, who in private practice specializes in Indian law, said Getches and CU professor Charles Wilkinson forged American Indian law as a discipline of study. Eid called Getches a "giant of the profession."

Getches also authored several law books in English and Spanish, and wrote numerous articles on water, natural resources and American Indian law.

"For over 30 years, David Getches has been a mentor," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. "He inspired my work on conservation. He taught me about the importance of upholding our trust relationship with the nation's first Americans. For Colorado and the nation, the legacy of David Getches' life will live forever."