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Death of noted national Indian leader

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Sherman Timothy Wapato, 73, entered the Spirit World at his home in Rapid City, S.D. Sunday, April 19, 2009 as a result of heart failure. He was an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribe in Eastern Washington.

Wapato was the second child of six children born to Paul and Elizabeth Wapato. During his early years of schooling, the family moved frequently, as Paul Wapato was an evangelist minister. Wapato went to nine different elementary schools prior to settling in the Methow Valley (Washington) for junior high and high school. The “Wapato Boys” were the only Indians attending Winthrop High School and were admired for their abilities in school and in sports.

He graduated from Winthrop in 1953, where he excelled in sports and government. Wapato was a popular student and was well-known for his basketball prowess, good humor and leadership abilities. He was class president and homecoming king.

Wapato attended Washington State University and California State University at Los Angeles, majoring in Political Science, Public Administration and Police Administration.

In 1955, he enlisted in the U.S. Army where he was in communications and played basketball; he was honorably discharged in 1957.

Wapato moved to Los Angeles, Calif. in 1958 where he joined the Los Angeles Police Department. With his quick-wit, coupled with passing a series of LAPD exams and obvious leadership abilities, at the age of 34, he quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant. He was the youngest to achieve that rank at that time. Older officers learned to trust his leadership and follow his supervision. He supervised up to 188 officers depending on the assignment and circumstances.

As a LAPD lieutenant, Wapato served as officer in charge of Detective Special Investigative Teams and handled homicide, robbery and narcotics, sex crimes, vice unit investigations, equal opportunity and development, and the Affirmative Action Unit/Discrimination Complaint Unit. Wapato also served as patrol division watch commander, patrol division supervisor and an instructor at the academy on robbery and homicide investigations, police-community relations and American Indian culture awareness. He was a frequent instructor at the Indian Police Academy at Roswell, N.M., training officers to work on Indian reservations. While officer in charge he was responsible for assessing the legal implications of each investigation, assignment of investigative personnel, and analysis, evaluation of status and crime trends and recommendations for strategic planning to address issues and programmatic concerns.

In 1972 and 1973, through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, the LAPD loaned Wapato to the Colville Confederated Tribe for a special assignment to plan and design a tribal police department and a tribal court. He completed the design for the department with a fish and wildlife enforcement section, fish and wildlife biology section, court system and public highway safety program.

During the 21 years Wapato served with the LAPD, he volunteered his off-duty time to work for the City of Los Angeles including serving as chairman of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission; member of the Council for Peace and Equality in Education; member of the board for the LA Indian Center; president, United American Indian Council; and president, American Indian Welcome House.

Wapato retired from the LAPD in 1979 after 21 years of service and after receiving numerous commendations for his work.

After retirement, he immediately took a post with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission where he worked for 10 years. Initially, he was the director of fisheries protection and enforcement; in 1980, he was appointed to executive director of the commission. He executed and administered grants and contracts, supervised more than 65 legal, technical and administrative employees and was responsible for administering a $5.5 million annual budget. He directed the analysis, evaluation, formulation and implementation of policy, judicial and legislative initiatives, developed cooperative working agreements with international, national, federal, state and regional parties for the benefit of tribal and inter-tribal interests in the areas of water rights, regulation and enforcement, treaty rights, hydropower fishing rights and resource management.

While at CRITFC, he was appointed by President Reagan in 1986 to serve on the U.S. Pacific Salmon Commission. Reagan re-appointed him to negotiate the treaty between Canada and the United States to serve a second term in 1988. As a commissioner, he reported to the U.S. secretary of state and was responsible for implementing the international treaty provisions between the U.S. and Canada. His peers elected him to be the chairman of the International Indian Treaty Council, with the responsibility of U.S. chief negotiator in the annual negotiations on the treaty with Canada. The result was the Pacific Salmon which acknowledged tribes as sovereigns and equal co-managers.

In 1989, Wapato accepted a Senior Executive Service political appointment and became the commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans in the Department of Health and Human Services. He led ANA from 1989 – 1993. He was responsible for formulating and administering a $34 million budget to provide grants, contracts, technical assistance and training, interagency agreements and activities beneficial to ANA clients.

He served as the principal advisor to the secretary of the HHS on Native American Affairs, including Native Hawaiians, Samoans and other Pacific Islanders. He provided testimony before Congress, delivered keynote speeches at national, regional, tribal, federal and state meetings and worked on the reauthorization of the ANA legislation within the federal government with Congress and with key Indian organizations. Wapato saw the need for improved coordination for Indian tribes and helped establish the Inter-Agency Council which served as liaison and coordination within HHS and among federal agencies to ensure effective integration of programs and policies affecting Native Americans.

While ANA commissioner, he was also appointed to membership in the Senior Executive Service Advisory Board, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and to the Native American Veterans Coordinating Council with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Upon leaving government service in 1993, the tribal nations asked Wapato and his wife, A. Gay Kingman to develop and establish a National Indian Gaming Association office in Washington, D.C. He and Gay founded NIGA and through hard work and long hours turned it into a powerful national organization for Indian tribes. NIGA’s D.C. office roots began in their home, discussions held frequently around the kitchen table, but the success of their work on the organization quickly expanded to increasingly larger offices. In 1995, NIGA was the first Indian organization to purchase and own property on Capitol Hill.

As executive director and chief management officer of NIGA, Wapato provided overall leadership, direction and guidance to Indian tribal nations. He supervised employees, managed and guided all NIGA projects, developed and implemented operating policies and procedures for investment funds and public relations, including working with Congress. Namely he developed and directed a strategy for a coordinated effort among public relations staff, attorneys, lobbyists and Indian tribes to realize success with Congress and the administration. Under his leadership, this coalition was effective in stopping attempts to pass harmful legislation in Congress, and strategies and recommendations were developed to support amendments beneficial to tribes.

The national press called upon him often; again his quick wit and humor gained him enduring relationships with the media. In April 1994, NIGA won the coveted national Creativity in Public Relations Award in New York City for the campaign/strategy implemented to educate the public on Indian gaming.

Besides the coordinated communication effort, two major programs were developed under his NIGA leadership to assist tribes:

The ITN or Integrated Tribal Network, an electronic communication system, and the Institute for Tribal Government, an educational department within NIGA to offer courses and workshops to train and educate tribes, states and staff of casinos on a wide range of topics.

In 1998, he first resigned from NIGA, wanting to make an attempt at a third retirement, but his resignation was not accepted by the board. He later resigned again but remained faithfully committed to Indian tribes, but relocated to Rapid City, S.D., so he and Gay could be near family and take care of Gay’s father, Gus Kingman, who lived to be 104 years old.

“Tim Wapato was a man of vision, a true warrior for Indian nations. As a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, love for Indian peoples and respect for our sovereignty was deeply ingrained in his heart. And, he was a man of action, who put himself on the frontline and made his vision a reality. He was a champion for us all and will always be remembered for his leadership,” said NIGA Chairman Ernest L. Stevens Jr.

In his fourth retirement, Wapato served as executive director of the InterTribal Bison Cooperative in Rapid City until he experienced a stroke in August 2000.

He and Gay formed Kingman, Wapato & Associates, a consulting, lobbying and technical assistance firm. Soon thereafter, the Great Plains Tribes asked them to help organize the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association where Gay continues to work as executive director.

Wapato never let his health hold him back; right up until his death he continued to give speeches, expert advice and served on several national boards, including the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development and the Institute for Tribal Government, Portland State University. He remained active in NIGA, National Congress of American Indians, Veterans Affairs, legislation politics, and was a mentor to many young people as they continued to battle for Indian tribes.

“We were honored to have Mr. Wapato serve as a valued and knowledgeable member of the National Center’s Board of Directors for a decade,” stated Margo Gray-Proctor, board chair of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.

He was highly respected throughout the United States and touched many lives. He received many honors and was known for his brilliant mind, his wise advice, his humor, his vision, his capabilities, his ability to provide leadership in crisis and his strength of will. Though a tireless leader, he always made time and always had a kind word for his family and his extended family, of which he has a legion.

In his life’s work, he had a skill for cutting to the core issue, no matter how complex, then inspiring those around him to join hands to either take care of a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. It would be inadequate to label him as a visionary, because he himself would correct such a label and point out that together, we did not all just see or talk, rather we made real things happen and stood our shared ground.

That is his truly unique legacy, providing guideposts to those who stand proudly in his wake by having experienced a man – never daunted, habitually principled, strategically defiant, possessing great perspective yet a healthy appreciation for satire, and always hopeful.

Wapato was preceded in death by his parents, Reverend Paul Wapato (1955) and Elizabeth Wapato (1994), his sister, Esther KeAna Wapato (1965) and Phillip Francis Wapato (1961).

He is survived by his wife, Gay Kingman, of Rapid City, S.D.; son Stephen Timothy Wapato (Megan), Wenatchee, Wash., and daughters KeAna Wapato Conrad and Theresa Wapato Borgia of Southern California; son Charles Robertson (Kathy), Vernon Robertson (Corina); and brothers Paul G. Wapato Jr. (Ruth), Spokane, Wash., Titus R. Wapato, Santa Monica, Calif., and James W. Wapato, Bouse, Ariz.

Together, he and Gay have 20 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren with one on the way. Over the years, he and Gay have mentored numerous young people and have a vast extended family who love and respect them.