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Hans C. Walker Jr., Trailblazing Native American Lawyer, Walks On at 89

Hans Walker Jr., Mandan, was among the first American Indians to become a licensed lawyer in 1960. He walked on December 20.

Hans C. Walker Jr., one of the first Native American lawyers to lead the push to enforce tribal treaty rights, died at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, on Sunday, December 20. He was 89.

Walker, who was Mandan, began his legal career in 1960 as general counsel for the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation of North Dakota, of which he was a member. From 1965-1982, he held several posts in the U.S. Department of the Interior, including assistant solicitor, director of the office of Indian water rights, and associate solicitor for Indian Affairs. In 1988, Walker joined Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker as a partner, whose practice areas included tribal self-determination, taxation, Indian gaming, jurisdiction, trust and restricted Indian lands and water rights.

“I met Hans in 1963 and we were friends before we were partners,” said Jerry Straus, founding partner at Hobbs Straus, a national leader in federal Indian law. “He was one of the sharpest legal minds I’ve ever known who made extraordinary, groundbreaking contributions to the development of Indian law that were immensely helpful to the tribes. He will be sorely missed.”

Most recently, Walker represented the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in its ongoing suit for the return of thousands of acres of land taken by the State of New York in violation of the Non-Intercourse Act. Walker also wrote many decisions and prepared manuals on taxation and gaming that are still widely used in Indian country.

“I had the great privilege to work with Hans as a young legal intern in the summer of 1969 at the Solicitor’s office at the Department of the Interior,” said John Echohawk, executive director and co-founder of the Native American Rights Fund. “It was my first time in D.C. and he was very knowledgeable about federal Indian law, which was impressive, considering that at that time we were still learning and trying to move away from the Termination Era. I learned a lot from him that summer.”

Walker, a member of the Lowcat clan of the Mandan, was born on December 15, 1926 in the community of Elbowoods on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, which was subsequently flooded and wiped from the map after the construction of the Garrison Dam. He attended high school at Haskell Institute in Kansas, which was at that time an Indian boarding school. After a stint in the Navy, Walker attended college and law school on the G.I. bill, receiving his LL.B in 1960 from the University of North Dakota, where he served on the board of editors of the Law Review. He was a member of the District of Columbia and North Dakota bars.

“He was a pioneer who broke through every barrier in his way and was an inspiration to me and countless others across Indian country and beyond,” said Walker’s son Reid, who is the communications director for Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State. “My Dad was a voracious reader who never stopped learning. He grounded me in the traditions of our tribe, but also wanted me to see the world—taking me to Beijing, Cairo, Athens and across Europe by the time I was 15. Those experiences shaped me and I was able to pass them on to my daughters. He will be greatly missed but will continue to inspire his family, tribe and future generations.”

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; his son, Reid Walker; and two granddaughters, Taylor and Lindsay.

A memorial service will take place on Monday, December 28, at the Everly-Wheatley Funeral Home at 1500 W. Braddock Road, in Alexandria, Virginia. Visitation will begin at noon, followed by a service at 1 p.m. A traditional Native service will be held in North Dakota at a later date.