Thomas W. Fredericks, Partner at Largest Indian Law Firm, Honored by American Bar Association


A member of the Three Affiliated Tribes who co-founded the largest firm in the nation that focuses exclusively on federal Indian law is being recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) with its Spirit of Excellence Award.

Raised on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, Thomas W. Fredericks has practiced Indian law for more than four decades. He serves as a senior partner at Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP, based in Louisville, Colorado. The firm represents tribes and Native organizations throughout the U.S. in legislative and governmental issues, corporate and financial affairs, energy and tax issues, as well as litigation.

"Our tribal nation family has always known that Tom Fredericks is an extraordinary talent," Tex Hall, former chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, previously told MHA Nation News. "Tom grew up in the Elbowoods and Twin Buttes area and showed promise early. He is a child of the Garrison Dam and the flooding of our homelands. After college, while working as the economic opportunity program director, he saw injustice all around him, especially in the flooding of the reservations, and decided that perhaps he could do good by becoming an attorney. From there he progressed to working with Indian tribes all across the United States. ...We are very proud of him and continue to use his talents here at the MHA (Mandan, Hidata and Arikara) Nation."

Thomas W. Fredericks

Thomas W. Fredericks

The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession will present Fredericks with his prestigious award on February 4 at the ABA midyear meeting at the JW Marriott Marquis in Miami, Florida. The 2017 Midyear Meeting runs February 1-7 in Miami.

The Spirit of Excellence Award celebrates the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession. Fredericks will be honored along withPeggy A. Nagae, a principal and consultant at Peggy Nagae Consulting in Portland, Oregon; Kenneth G. Standard, general counsel emeritus of Epstein Becker Green and of counsel in its Employment, Labor & Workforce Management Practice in New York City; and Stephen N. Zack, partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, in Miami, Florida.

Past recipients of the Spirit of Excellence award include the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink; renowned civil rights lawyer Fred Gray; ABA's first African-American president Dennis Archer; and ABA's first African-American female president Paulette Brown.

Fredericks graduated in 1972 from the University of Colorado School of Law in Boulder, where he began a long and distinguished mission to influence the field of Indian Law. While in law school, Fredericks was instrumental in developing the first Indian Law class and he was a charter member and first treasurer of the Native American Law Students Association. During this time, he also helped form the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder.

As a staff attorney and later director, he was instrumental in bringing Indian Law to the forefront of the American legal system. He worked to improve the legal and political relationships that tribes have with both state and federal governments. In 1980, Fredericks was appointed by President Carter first as associate solicitor and then as assistant secretary of Indian Affairs for the Department of Interior (DOI). He was instrumental in the Congressional passage of the Indian Mineral Development Act authorizing tribes to participate in Indian mineral development both as owner-developers and co-owners in joint ventures with private companies. He also was nationally recognized for his pivotal role in formulating the National Water Policy that continues today and incorporates the practicably irrigable acreage standard, an essential concept in establishing Western water rights.

After leaving DOI, Fredericks founded his law firm in Colorado, which is now known as Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP and is the nation’s largest Indian Law firm. The firm represents tribes, individual Indians and tribal and private corporations. Fredericks manages the firm’s Colorado office’s day-to-day services and provides oversight on all cases and transactions.

Fredericks started his law firm with the goal of having Indians run Indian affairs at federal, state and reservation levels. “What I preach to my young attorneys is that you’ve got to develop laws and you’ve got to have tribes develop agencies within the tribes that are competent and capable of regulating water, oil and gas,” he told Minot Daily News in December 2013.

The mission of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession is to promote racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. The commission serves as a catalyst for change, so that the profession may more accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of society and better serve society. The commission promotes the recruitment, hiring, promotion and advancement of attorneys of color and works to ensure equal membership and employment opportunities for diverse lawyers in the ABA. The commission accomplishes all this through many initiatives, activities and programs, including the annual Spirit of Excellence Award.

Parts of this article were sourced from an American Bar Association press release.