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ND native to receive American Bar Association prestigious national award

Thomas Fredericks

LOUISVILLE, Colo.—An attorney born and raised on the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota who is one of the nation's leaders in fighting for the rights of American Indian tribes will be recognized by the American Bar Association with its prestigious Spirit of Excellence Award.

Thomas W. Fredericks, senior partner of Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP in Louisville, Colo., will be one of four people to receive the award presented by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. He will receive the award during the ABA's mid-year meeting in Miami, Fla., Feb. 4.

The award recognizes lawyers who have personified excellence on the national, state or local level and who have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the profession, according to the ABA website.

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, an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, has practiced law for nearly 45 years. He is considered one of the leading experts in tribal law, with considerable experience in legal and political issues that tribes have with state and federal governments.

According to biographical information, 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, he was instrumental in developing the first Indian law class and was a charter member and first treasurer of the Native American Law Students Association. During this time, he 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. On June 18, 1980, Fredericks was appointed by President Jimmy Carter first as associate solicitor and then as assistant secretary of Indian Affairs for the Department of Interior.

After leaving the Interior Department, Fredericks founded his law firm in Colorado, Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP, which has become the nation's largest Indian law firm. The firm has offices in seven states and Washington, D.C.

Fredericks manages the firm's Colorado office's day-to-day services, providing oversight on all cases and transactions. His practice there focuses on natural resources, energy and environmental laws, tribal sovereignty, tribal government, business and corporate law, gaming and economic development. He has been involved in numerous negotiations with the federal government concerning its trust responsibilities to Indian Country. He also has successfully litigated important Indian rights and resources cases.

Fredericks has guided and mentored many attorneys and continues to do so.

In a story about Fredericks published in the Minot Daily News in December 2013, it was noted he recently gave a speech to accept a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Fredericks said he told those attending that when he started law, his goal was to have 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 said. He said there's no reason for another entity to come in and regulate or try to assert jurisdiction over them."

Born at Elbowoods on the Fort Berthold Reservation, when Fredericks was in grade school his family had to leave the Elbowoods area because the Garrison Dam was to be built and the reservoir would flood the land. They moved to Twin Buttes to ranch.

Fredericks graduated from Killdeer High School and went on to graduate from Minot State University with a bachelor of science degree and for a short time was a high school teacher and coach at Bowbells. His wife, the former Judy Hass, is originally from Bowbells.

His honors in North Dakota include the MSU 2011 Alumni Association Golden Award and in 2012 was honored by the North Dakota State Bar Association for 40 years of distinguished service to the legal profession and the state of North Dakota.

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