NIGA Mourns the Loss of National Indian Gaming Association Leader Kurt BlueDog

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May 18, 2020

Washington, D.C. – March 18, 2020 – It is with great sadness that the National Indian Gaming Association announces that our organization’s longest standing Board Member (since 1985) and Native visionary Kurt BlueDog journeyed on to the Spirit World on Tuesday, May 12.

National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., said, “Kurt was the pillar of our Tribal Government Gaming family and was one of the most exceptional legal visionaries protecting Indian country, constantly on guard defending tribal sovereignty. He was a gentleman Warrior, always as intense as he needed to be, only when he had to be.” Stevens added, “Kurt was a giant in the legal community, sharing his gifts with the next generation by mentoring young Native lawyers and guiding many tribal leaders throughout his career.”

Stevens continued, “I grew up in this industry, watching my mentors like Kurt, Rick Hill, John Kieffer, and so many others who envisioned a better future for all tribal communities through tribal government gaming. They put their minds together to help move that vision forward despite the many challenge’s tribes encountered. We all must work to honor their sacrifices, and carry the responsibility to further build this industry – always guarding, protecting, and educating others with the same commitment and dedication they instilled.”
“Kurt leaves a legacy reflected by the phenomenal outpouring of messages of love and strength shown throughout social media since the news of his passing. Kurt was a great friend and mentor to me; without a doubt, his passing is a significant loss for us all.” Stevens concluded.

BlueDog tirelessly served on the National Indian Gaming Association’s Executive Committee for 35 years, since its founding, working to preserve Indian sovereignty and defend tribal government gaming. In 2001, BlueDog was honored by the National Indian Gaming Association with the coveted John Kieffer Sovereignty Award, for his selfless dedication and work towards tribal sovereignty and tribal government gaming.

Kurt long represented the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) as General Counsel. He helped SMSC through constitutional issues, legislative reform, elections, economic diversification, and environmental leadership. Kurt provided legal guidance to SMSC in the development of a 5 Star JW Marriott Hotel at the Mall of America, which is sure to be an icon of Indian hospitality and tourism.

BlueDog was in the active practice of federal Indian law for over 40 years almost exclusively on behalf of Indian tribal governments and Indian organizations.

He was born and raised on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. After he graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1972, he served as a commissioned officer in the Army paratroopers. He graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Law in 1977. He was a member of the State Bars of Minnesota and Wisconsin, several tribal courts, the United States Supreme Court, and numerous federal, district, and appellate courts.

Early on in his legal career, BlueDog worked for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) in Boulder, Colorado, as a staff attorney and later served as the Vice Chairman of NARF’s Executive Board. His experience at NARF involved extensive litigation experience in Indian education, economic development, tribal sovereignty, American Indian religious freedom, land rights, tribal recognition, corrections, and housing.

As an adjunct professor, he taught federal Indian law at William Mitchell College of Law and the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. Additionally, he served as the Chief Judge for the Fond du Lac Chippewa Tribal Court for ten years and the Prairie Island Sioux Tribal Court for 11 years. For the past 15 years, he served part-time as the Chief Judge for the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

At the time of his passing, Kurt was working with the Rosebud, Shakopee Mdewakanton, Crow Creek, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Yankton, Oglala, and Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribes in recovering approximately 2,650 acres of trust land at Pe Sla, the Lakota, Nakota, Dakota sacred site in the center of the Black Hills. With his expert legal assistance, these Sioux Nation tribes have had an essential part of their homeland returned to Indian trust status with relation back to the 1868 Treaty with the Sioux Nation.

Kurt was preceded in death by his maternal great grandfather Sunkatoiciye (Chief BlueDog) and by his maternal great uncle Msgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble, and by his step-father Emmett Roberts and his mother, Jerena BlueDog Roberts and by siblings Keith Verlan Roberts, Sheila Roberts, Gwen Roberts, Gail He’s. Keith Kerwin Roberts, Jackie Birney and by many other fine relatives.

He is survived by his loving wife of 40 years Violet Bluedog – nee Little, a proud member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Five children to include Kristin Hendricks of Pennsylvania (fiancé Joe Sandbakken, CW5, U.S. Army); Brandy Late of Ft. Campbell, Kentucky (Sgt. David Late, U.S. Anny); Brian BlueDog of New Hope, Minnesota (wife Rachel); step-daughter Michelle Mills of Crystal, Minnesota ; and stepson Chad Mills of Albuquerque, New Mexico (wife Nancy). Grandchildren: Zachary, Alyssa, Jessica, Braden, Elizabeth, Sage, Justin, Jeremy, James, Conner, Daniel and Adrian Kurt. Great-grandchildren: Cj, Davao, Alden, Nakai, Aubrey, Elias, and Carte.

He is also survived by his aunt, Germaine Rockwood of Watertown, South Dakota; siblings Sandra Menus of Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Lawrence, Kansas. Rachel Roberts of Watertown, South Dakota. Kevin Roberts of Waubay, South Dakota (Darlene Jo) Roxanne Roberts of Watertown, South Dakota Brother-in-Law Rex Birney of Orley, South Dakota. Bridgette Roberts of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Debra Roberts Ross of Granite Falls, Minnesota, and numerous Nieces and Nephews.

It was Kurt’s wish to have a private family burial at the BlueDog Lake in South Dakota.