Indianz.Com > News > Native Sun News Today: Indian Country loses a legend with passing of Alan Parker
Alan Parker
Alan Parker, 1942-2022. Family photo
Trying to make a difference
Alan Parker’s lasting impact on Indian Country.
Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Managing Editor, Native Sun News Today

It has been a couple of weeks since Alan R. Parker lost his long battle with cancer.

An enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Nation, Parker received a Juris Doctor degree from UCLA in 1972, and was at the forefront of political advocacy for all things tribal for many decades thereafter. Given the fixation this culture has with celebrity and imagery, a principled, skilled, savvy professional like Parker never had much place in the fickle public eye. But his life was a microcosm of a generation of unselfish men of vision, who came out of a 1969 Indian Pre-Law Program at the University of New Mexico (UNM), and did the tough, nuts-and-bolts work over the next half century that bettered the lives of many tribal people.

Bradley Shreve, best summed up Parker’s place in history in his 2018 review of Parker’s memoir: Pathways to Indigenous Nation Sovereignty: “While historians and the public alike often fix their attention on the bombast of the Red Power movement and the larger than life personalities that animated organizations such as AIM…it was really a cadre of Native lawyers and policy technocrats working through established political channels who deserve the greatest credit for the expansion of tribal sovereignty and self-determination in the late 20th century.”

Pathways to Indigenous Nation Sovereignty: A Chronicle of Federal Policy Developments
Alan Parker, far right, authored Pathways to Indigenous Nation Sovereignty: A Chronicle of Federal Policy Developments, published in 2018. The photo seen here is featured on the book cover. Courtesy photo

Parker applied many strategies to achieve results, but aspirational rhetoric was not one of them. He had a keen eye, understood the nature of the beast all tribes battled, and he knew how to work with others, and against others, to achieve long term structural change, positive change that the first stiff wind would not blow away like it has much of the Red Power activism of the 1970’s.

“Alan was going to be a priest at one time in his youth,” said his lifelong friend, colleague, and 1969 classmate at UNM, Dick Trudell, “and so anyone who gives thought to becoming a priest, you quickly realize how passionate they are about people and wanting to make a difference.”

Whatever else Parker might have wanted from life, a singular thread runs through all he accomplished, and the reflections of all the people who knew him best—he wanted to make a difference.

A cadre of impressive young Native minds gathered at UNM in 1969, and Trudell said that he and Parker “were part of the first group or wave of Indian attorneys. At the time there were probably less than ten in the country that were licensed to practice. A lot of us had served in the military and it was kind of the next step in our lives. We were just kind of searching for ourselves and wondering what we should do with our lives. Alan became one of my closest friends and remained close friends up until his last breath.”

Alan Parker
Alan Parker, 1942-2022. Family photo

After law school, Trudell started up the American Indian Training Program, and worked with Parker: “Our primary concern was to see young Native attorneys end up in private practice on or near a reservation. We also created an intern program for Indian law students which we did for about three years and had over a hundred law students go through it.’

One of the young lawyers to benefit from this program was Mario Gonzalez, Oglala, and another member of the Class of 1969.

“Alan and Dick got a grant from the Lilly Foundation,” Gonzalez said, “to set up some law students that had passed the bar exam and had licenses with a law practice. I was one of the first four that got into that program.”

This assistance helped Gonzalez launch an impressive career that had a huge impact on the struggles to get back the Black Hills in the decades to come. Later, Gonzalez would work with Parker and Suzan Harjo “on the Wounded Knee Bill to develop a memorial for the Wounded Knee Massacre Site. One of the things we wanted was an apology before the 100th anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre. Alan Parker and Suzan Harjo were the main individuals I was working with to get that concurrent resolution.”

South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle agreed to introduce the resolution, but he changed the wording, dropping the words “sincere apology” and keeping “deep regret.” As a result, according to Gonzalez, the Wounded Knee Survivors Association “rejected the resolution as an apology.”

“Alan was a brilliant man,” said Gonzalez. “When we were in the summer program I was really amazed at how smart he was. He was really outstanding, the way he presented himself in class. He was able to articulate and really understand what was going on. It was sad to see him passing this past week and I just hope he is honored properly for his achievements.”

The list of Parker’s achievements is a long one, not merely in the number of things in which he was critically involved, but in the breadth. He was graduated from St Thomas Seminary in 1965 with a B.A. in Classical Philosophy. Then he was off to Vietnam as a 1st Lt. from 1965-1968. He was awarded the Bronze Star for outstanding leadership under combat conditions.

First stop back stateside was the Summer Pre-Law Program at UNM. From there it was off to UCLA. There was only one place to go in those days for a Native attorney wanting to make a difference, and that was Washington, D.C.

Over the next few decades, Parker was involved at the highest levels of Native interest in DC. He was Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, he busied himself helping getting many important bills through Congress: the Indian Child Welfare Act, Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Tribal Self-Governance Act—all of these acts have had a profound impact on Indian Country.


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