Charles W. Blackwell, 70, the Chickasaw Nation’s Ambassador to the United States and the Director of Native Affairs & Development Group, died on January 2, 2013, in Rockville, Maryland, of respiratory complications following surgery.
Ambassador Blackwell was widely recognized for his advocacy for Tribal sovereignty, for zealously protecting the cultural integrity of Tribal Nations and in seeking definitive standards for engagement of the Federal Tribal trust relationship.
Mr. Blackwell was a member of the Chickasaw Nation and was also of Choctaw descent. He was born at Concho Indian Hospital in El Reno, Oklahoma, and was raised in Tishomingo, near the Blue River, and other small towns in the Chickasaw Nation. He spent elementary-age summers with his grandparents who were Bureau of Indian Affairs educators on the North Plains and in New Mexico. Consequently, he had lifelong deep ties with Picuris Pueblo in Northern New Mexico, and with North Plains community institutions, such as the Loneman School on the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was conversationally fluent in Choctaw, Chickasaw and Lakota, and had a strong affinity for all New Mexico Pueblo communities and Oklahoma Indian Country Tribal customs and traditions.As an educator and lawyer, Ambassador Blackwell was a pioneering advocate for Tribal Nation building, the creation of institutions of Tribal development and governance, and the use of formal modern diplomacy in the nation-to-nation relationship that Tribal Nations share with the United States federal government. He assisted Tribal Nations, privately owned businesses, non-profits and corporations with building solid business relationships.
Mr. Blackwell received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Education in 1964 from East Central State College in Ada, Oklahoma. He was the founding president of the Epsilon Omega chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, and the editor of the campus newspaper. Upon graduation, he taught English at Window Rock High School in Ft. Defiance, Arizona, until 1968 when he began his legal studies and received his law degree from the University of New Mexico in 1972. After graduation, he worked at the American Indian Law Center where he served as the Associate Director of the Special Scholarship Program in Law for American Indians. During his tenure, he helped place more than 700 American Indians and Alaskan Natives in law schools all over the United States. From 1974 to 1977, he was the Assistant Dean at the University of New Mexico School of Law.
In 1979, Blackwell established the organization that became the Native Affairs & Development Group, which was relocated to Washington, DC in 1985. As its Director, he served as a consultant nationwide, including as Special Advisor to Chairman Takuro Isoda of Daiwa Securities America in the World Trade Center from 1991 to 1995. He was then among the first American Indians to work in the Wall Street venue, and this work formed the foundation for his insight and ability to guide successful business relationships between private and Tribal business partners.
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In 1990, he received his first appointment in diplomatic service for the Chickasaw Nation. He was named the Chickasaw Nation Ambassador to the United States in a 1995 ceremony in Washington, DC. In 1998, Ambassador Blackwell founded Pushmataha House, located on Capitol Hill, which served as an important center for Tribal business, government and cultural affairs. He recently relocated on Capitol Hill to a new Office of the Ambassador, Piomingo House.
As a public servant, Mr. Blackwell’s work extended to serving the larger American Indian community in the realms of economic empowerment, health care, education and the environment. He was appointed to the EPA Director’s National Clean Air Action Advisory Committee. In 1995, he was selected by the U.S. Secretaries of Commerce, Agriculture, and the Interior to represent Indian Country on the Western Governor’s States Drought Coordination Council. He was a dynamic advocate for health care and Indian education. President Clinton appointed him to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 1997, where, as the only American Indian appointee, he pushed for awareness and information efforts in Tribal communities. In 2006, he participated in the Indian Country Methamphetamine Task Force, speaking at the National Congress of American Indians Annual Session on how Tribal Nations should campaign to their youth with an innovative method of creating Tribal-specific comic books with an anti-meth theme.
He routinely informed Federal agencies on their trust responsibilities. Speaking on Tribal values in energy needs, he received a Special Act Award from the Secretary of the Department of Energy in 2006. He was a constant voice for Tribal economic empowerment and diversification. He received the National Director’s Legacy Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency in 2007. Mr. Blackwell was a member of the Native American Bar Association and the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C.
He cherished being a parent and a grandparent to his sons, Geoffrey and Jonathan, and their daughters. He mmensely enjoyed southwestern sunsets, classic style and the storytelling of generations. His laugh will be long remembered.
Mr. Blackwell is survived by his older son, Geoffrey, daughter-in-law, Beth and granddaughters, Megan and Jennifer, of Rockville, Maryland; and his son, Jonathan, daughter-in-law, Jacy and granddaughter, Montana, of Martin’s Ferry, Ohio.
A memorial service was held at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC on Saturday, January 26th, the first ever held there for a Tribal leader. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Friday, February 22nd, in Ada, Oklahoma, at the Chickasaw Nation Community Center. A memorial service will also be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully asks that any donations please be sent in memory of Charles W. Blackwell to the Loneman School, P.O. Box 50, Oglala, SD 57764, on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.