Wapato, Tim: Former NIGA Executive Director passed on

Rapid City, South Dakota (ICC)

Timothy Wapato, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes and noted tribal sovereignty advocate, passed away on April 19, 2009 of heart failure at his home in Rapid City, South Dakota.

On April 24, a large gathering of friends, family members and Tribal leaders came together in an outpour of support for Wapato’s family to attend a beautifully coordinated Catholic mass and traditional burial held at the Mother Butler Center which included church leaders, traditional chiefs and prominent tribal leaders coming together to lay Wapato to rest.

At the service, NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. said, “Today, Indian Country has a heavy heart as we lay Tim Wapato to rest as we are deeply saddened at the passing of one of Indian Country’s most honorable warriors.

Stevens continued, “Tim was a visionary who lived by the rule that Indian Country came first and foremost. Tim was a tireless advocate for tribal sovereignty and native peoples all over the world.”


In hearing of the passing of Wapato, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin Chairman and former NIGA Chairman Rick Hill said, “Tim was a spiritual master sent to us from the creator.  He was a brilliant teacher;  philosopher, visionary and he used humor to tell the truth.  Tim led the way to protect our inherent sovereign right as indigenous people.”

Sycuan Band of Mission Indians Chairman and former NIGA Vice Chairman Danny Tucker said, “Tim will be greatly missed. I have so many memories of a man who had the Indian people in his heart. He was highly respected and deservingly so.” 

Wapato was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1935.

Wapato attended Washington State University and California State University, where he majored in political science, public administration, and police administration. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the United States Army and was honorably discharged in 1957 after working in communications.

In 1958, Wapato joined the Los Angeles Police Department and quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant, a feat that had not been achieved by anyone as young as he at that time. As an LAPD lieutenant, Wapato was the officer in charge of Detective Special Investigative Teams and oversaw crimes involving homicide, robbery, and drugs, as well as vice unit investigations.

In 1979, Wapato retired from the LAPD after 21years of service. However, Wapato immediately began working with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission where he played an instrumental role in tribal interests in the areas of water rights, regulation and enforcement, treaty rights, hydropower fishing rights and resource management.

Wapato dedicated his career in Washington, D.C. to educating members of Congress and the Senate about tribal governments, Sovereignty, tribal culture, and Indian gaming.         

Up until his death, Wapato remained active in NIGA, the National Congress of American Indians, Veterans Affairs, and Tribal Advocacy. Wapato also served as a mentor and role model to the young.

His wife, Gay Kingman, daughters Keana and Teresa, of California; son Steve of Wenatchee; his grandchildren and brothers Paul, Titus, and James survive Wapato.