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The Michigan Indian legal community is mourning the passing of Jim Keedy, who served as the executive director of Michigan Indian Legal Services (MILS) for 30 years before his retirement in 2018. Keedy passed away from complications from COVID pneumonia this past Tuesday. Keedy was 69.

During his long tenure leading Michigan Indian Legal Services, a statewide provider of legal services to income-eligible Native Americans and tribes, the organization assisted six Michigan Indian tribes gain their federal reaffirmation—recognition—and countless Michigan Native American families with Indian Child Welfare Act and Michigan Indian Family Preservation Cases.

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A product of Wyandotte, Mich., Keedy became acquainted with Michigan Indian concerns when he worked on a tribal enrollment/disenrollment case while working at UAW-Ford Legal Services in 1987,

“He contacted MILS attorneys at the time for insights and assistance. Coupled with his love of history, he was hooked and jumped ship and joined the staff at MILS by the end of 1987. Judge Mike Petoskey (Ottawa) was hired as the new executive director of MILS around the same time as when Jim joined the staff. When Mike left that position, Jim was the obvious choice given his prior experience managing a legal aid office in Jackson,” Cameron Fraser (Delaware Tribe of Indians), MILS’ current executive director, said to Native News Online.

The obvious choice lasted for over 30 years. After stepping down as MILS’ executive director, Keedy remained on the staff. During his long history at MILS, Keedy became well respected for his strong dedication to ensuring Native Americans strong legal representation.

Matthew L.M. Fletcher (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians), the editor of Turtle Talk and professor at Michigan State University's College of Law, spoke about Keedy’s dedication to preserving tribal sovereignty for Michigan tribes.

“It’s so sad. Jim was a sovereignty warrior, part of the first wave lawyer ogitchidaawaag that helped bring Michigan tribes out of the hell of administrative termination. He will be greatly missed and remembered for many generations,” Fletcher said.

Eva Kennedy (Oneida), who was on the MILS board of director since the 1970s, remembers Keedy as a fair and gentle man.

“He was a great man who always wanted to help people,” Kennedy said. “And, he helped a whole lot. He had a love for Native Americans.”

Tanya Gibbs, partner at Rosette, LLC law firm in Grand Rapids, Mich., remembers interacting with Keedy at meetings throughout the years.

“I was so sad to hear the news about Jim’s passing! He was a great advocate for tribes and Native people. He will certainly be missed!” Gibbs said.

Fraser reflected Keedy was able to hire top notch staff and manage many big personalities, all the while keeping the organization financially stable - which is no small feat. He gave his staff free reign to do great work, while still ensuring compliance with all the bureaucratic rules that govern legal services.

“On a more personal note, I will miss Jim tremendously. I first met Jim when I was an intern at MILS in the summer of 1998 and he rehired me as a staff attorney in 2007. He was passionate about the legal issues and serving the needs of the clients while ensuring that all arguments made were well grounded and legally supported. He was likely never happier than when he was knee deep in legal or historical research - with books and papers piled on all sides of him,” Fraser said.

Keedy was a graduate of Michigan State University and Wayne State University Law School. He was the past chair and member of the Indian Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, a member of the State Bar’s American Indian Law Committee, and formerly ex officio member of the Steering Committee and treasurer of the National Association of Indian Legal Services.

He was the 2018 National Legal Aid and Defender Association's Pierce-Hickerson Award. 

A funeral mass will be held for Keedy on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2022 at 11 a.m. at the Christ the King Catholic Church in Acme, Mich.

Michigan Indian Legal Services will celebrate the life of their longtime leader on his 70th birthday, February 23, 2022 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/86104757584

Meeting ID: 861 0475 7584




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Levi Rickert
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Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].