PLUMMER, Idaho – David Lee Harding was widely known throughout Indian country, having served for 29 years in tribal courts in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska. He passed away Dec. 8, 2009 while playing in a father/son basketball game with his sons and numerous friends. He was 57 years old.
David was a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota but grew up in the Willamette Valley of Oregon with two brothers and a sister. He was a fan of Paul Revere and the Raiders and started his own rock band in his early years. This led to working as a radio announcer and in later years to announcing at boxing matches at the Coeur d’Alene Casino as well as basketball games in Plummer and Spokane and he was a backup announcer for the Spokane Indians professional baseball team.
Former Coeur d’Alene Tribal Attorney Ray Givens tells of a night at the boxing matches when David was announcing. “One night I took my son, who was about 8 at the time, to a boxing match at the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Casino. We bought some 50/50 tickets as we went in, and I gave the stubs to Joe. Dave Harding was the ring announcer that night, and when the ring girl drew the ticket, we won. The scantily clad lady came down to where we were sitting and escorted Joe up to the ring. He was terrified. Dave smiled, looked down at me, and said over the mike, ‘Ray, under the tribe’s law, which you probably wrote, a minor can’t gamble here and 50/50 is gambling.’ Everyone, including me, had a good laugh at my expense. I went up to the ring, rescued my son and collected the prize from a still laughing Dave. His grace and humor was much appreciated.”
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 1975 where he was president of the Native American Student Union. He attended the University of Oregon School of Law, and later a summer session at the University of New Mexico School of Law and later yet attended the University of Idaho School of Law.
In addition to serving as a tribal judge for all those years he was involved in community activities as well. He almost single-handedly raised the money for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Wellness Center in Plummer. He served on the Worley City Council, announced high school games, volunteered as a T-ball coach, was in the PTA, worked as a volunteer fireman and was a member of the Head Start Committee.
Perhaps his biggest joy was being a father to his four boys: Jacob, Joseph, Marcus and Samuel. He became involved in all their activities through the school.
David was a serious professional but he certainly had a relaxed, casual side. He once commented, “My senior year in high school I was voted most likely not to succeed.”
Olney Patt Jr., presently the policy planner for the Natural Resources Department for Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, said of David, “He was a very knowledgeable guy, but always fun to be around.”
Patt originally met David Harding in 1977 at Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home, during a smoke break. They became fast friends, especially after David moved to Warm Springs and began working with Patt’s father in the court. David started referring to Patt Sr. as “dad.”
“We were just like brothers and treated each other that way,” Patt Jr. said. “We joked and laughed a lot and also talked about some pretty serious issues in Indian country.” He spoke of a fishing trip with Harding on Coeur d’Alene Lake, “but nothing was ever just a simple excursion. When we went out on the lake he explained what the settlement was with the state of Idaho on boundaries on Coeur d’Alene Lake and what claims the Coeur d’Alene Tribe was making.”
Cindy Jordan replaced Harding as chief judge for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. She remembers him as a great friend and colleague. “He always had such a great sense of humor. Every time we’d see him we’d laugh really hard. He was just one of those guys. He was a terrific guy and I’m very sad about him passing away too soon.”
David left the world too soon but he was doing something he liked best, being with his sons and friends, joking and laughing. Ray Givens summed it up with words from his own father who told of a friend who died of a heart attack on the third tee of his favorite golf course. “It was just the way he would have wanted it, quick, and doing something he loved.”