A. David Lester, 71, of the Muscogee Creek Nation, executive director of the 56-member Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT) from 1982 to the present, passed December 26 in Denver after an illness. He was a strong advocate for tribal sovereignty and a mentor to young people beginning in the natural resources field. He occupied high-profile positions, including that of Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) under Presidents Carter and Reagan.
While in ANA, he restructured its program of core administration for tribes and urban centers into a development agency funding projects that implemented tribally developed social and economic development strategies.
In 1970, he became founding president of the United Indian Development Association in Los Angeles, the predecessor to the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED). The National Center became the leading business ownership program in North America, assisting thousands of Indian business owners in obtaining financing and contracts with large companies and government agencies, and he remained on its board of directors. NCAIED is known for its Las Vegas RES conference and trade show.
A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he graduated from Brigham Young University in Utah in 1967 with a degree in political science after serving a church mission in South America.
Lester joined the California Federal Savings and Loan and from 1968-1969 he served as economic development specialist for the National Congress of American Indians and the First Nations Development Institute.
He advocated tribes’ developing their human resources to match the potential of their natural energy resources and liked to point out that nearly one-fourth of conventional energy resources are on tribal lands, which he believed will prosper through partnerships between Native and non-Native suppliers and both green and conventional energy strategies. Development should be for the economic and social development of Indian communities and families and according to their own values, he asserted.
Lester served on a number of boards and committees, including serving as a trustee for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and as a board member of Americans for Indian Opportunity. He was also a member of the National Coal Council. He was instrumental in annual CERT conferences, which brought together tribal leaders, industry experts and government representatives, and at which American Spirit Awards were presented to tribes for developing energy resources and achieving self-determination, as well as for working with other tribes and tribal communities.
Lester is survived by his wife, Henrietta, or “Millie”; his son, Eric; his adopted daughter, Tanya Firemoon; sisters Judy, Andrea, and Lillian, and grandchildren Samantha, Johnny and Alex.
Services will be held January 1 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 6061 South Havana St., in Englewood, Colorado. A wake will be held in Okemah, Oklahoma January 3 and services and interment will be in Okemah January 4. Flowers may be sent to the Lester residence, 8688 East Otero Circle, Centennial, Colorado 80112.