Professor and American Indian Legal Expert Bill Rice Walks On

G. William “Bill” Rice, an attorney, University of Tulsa law professor, and expert on American Indian legal matters, walked on Sunday, February 14.
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G. William “Bill” Rice, an attorney, University of Tulsa law professor, and expert on American Indian legal matters, walked on Sunday, February 14, reports Tulsa World.

He lived in Cushing, Oklahoma and was a graduate of the University of Oklahoma law school. He taught at law schools at Cornell University and the University of North Dakota, before joining the University of Tulsa faculty in 1995.

Rice, a member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, served as attorney general for the Sac and Fox Nation, chief justice for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, assistant chief and chief judge for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, and associate justice for the Kickapoo Nation of Indians in Kansas, reports the University of Tulsa.

“He was a tireless advocate for Indian tribes and Indian peoples, successfully arguing on behalf of the Sac and Fox Nation in the United States Supreme Court in Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Sac and Fox Nation,” the university said in a release. “He played an active role in the United Nations Working Group on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which led to the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. When he began this work, Rice would frequently say ‘indigenous people—that’s ME!’ with a twinkle in his eye. Clearly, his impact reaches from central Oklahoma to Geneva, Switzerland, and his passing is a great loss to many.”

When he joined the University of Tulsa in 1995, he taught constitutional law, jurisprudence, international indigenous law, Native American and indigenous rights, tribal government and tribal gaming law.

“He treated his students with great compassion and kindness while challenging them to achieve at the highest levels,” the university said.

Rice wrote the first law school casebook for use in Indian gaming law classes, Tribal Governmental Gaming Law. He was the founding director of the LLM degree in American Indian and Indigenous Law and the Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law and served as co-director of the Native American Law Center at TU Law.

“Bill was a gifted thinker, talented lawyer … and just an incredibly kind, warm and compassionate colleague, mentor and friend here at the College of Law, well-regarded by everyone,” Lyn Entzeroth, TU Law president said. “He made it part of his mission to mentor, recruit and inspire a whole generation of American Indian kids to go to law school.”

In a statement, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Assistant Chief Joe Bunch praised Rice, describing him as a “friend” and “a warrior for individual and tribal rights. … He was deeply concerned for the welfare of the Keetoowah … (and) a champion for Keetoowah rights.”

“I was very lucky as a young Indian law professor to join a faculty with such a wealth of professors with expertise in the field. Instead of being the only Indian law professor, I was one of four, and I took full advantage of that opportunity. Bill and I spent many hours in each others’ offices bouncing ideas off each other and brainstorming,” wrote Melissa Tatum, Research Professor of Law at the University of Arizona, in a memoriam to Rice. “It was particularly a pleasure to watch Bill with the students. His gruff, country boy demeanor hid (although not very well) a very soft and generous heart. He mentored an entire generation of Indian attorneys, and his kind and giving spirit will be missed.”