A lifetime of work advocating for the legal rights of Native American people

Chickasaw citizen Kevin Washburn has spent practically his entire adult life working on behalf of Native American nations; his credits include serving as the former dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior (2012-2016). He has also been a federal prosecutor, a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice and acted as the General Counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Washburn says that during his tenure as Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior, he witnessed a vital shift in the government-to-government relationship between tribes. One of his major accomplishments includes restoring more than 1.5 million acres of existing trust lands in fractionated interests to Native American tribes; he's well known for standing up for the legitimacy of tribes, even against others in the U.S. government.

A native of Oklahoma City and a graduate of Yale Law School, Washburn is currently a faculty member at the University of Iowa School of Law in Iowa City. The joy of his life, he says, is teaching students about federal Indian law, and he notes that the law is often on the tribes' side.

Washburn's mother, Shirley Duncan, raised him and his two siblings. A retired community health representative for the Chickasaw Nation, Duncan currently serves on the tribe's Council of Elders. Washburn notes that he may not look like a Native American but that he's incredibly proud of his Chickasaw heritage and of the cultural pride that his mother instilled in him growing up.


  • Inducted in the Chickasaw Hall of Fame in 2017