In his first year as a lawyer, Kurt BlueDog assisted in drafting legislation that became the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which ensured that Native Americans could practice their faiths and sacred ceremonies.
Over the next four decades, he was a consistent voice nationally in addressing American Indian issues.
BlueDog’s career included roles as an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, a tribal court judge, legal counsel for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a board member for the National Indian Gaming Association and an adjunct law professor at William Mitchell College of Law and the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul. The Wayzata resident died of complications from cancer on May 12 at the age of 70.
“We are so saddened by the passing of Kurt BlueDog — a kind, intelligent friend to many and a staunch advocate for and defender of Native causes,” said Keith Anderson, chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. “The many results of Kurt’s tireless passion and work will live on throughout Indian Country. As a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Kurt has been one of the pre-eminent Dakota attorneys in U.S. history.
“Kurt represented the SMSC for 28 years as part of a career that spanned more than 40 years. … Our community is so proud to have worked with Kurt for so many years and his wise counsel will be missed.”
BlueDog also played a vital role in the drafting of legislation that became the Texas Band of Traditional Kickapoo Act and the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act, and in coordinating a trust land declaration in the Black Hills.
“Today, eight tribes of the Great Sioux Nation are protecting and restoring Pe’ Sla, a sacred site in the Black Hills,” Anderson said. “Because of Kurt’s wise counsel, we were able to successfully place more than 2,000 acres of this sacred land into trust.”
BlueDog was born on Feb. 25, 1950, to Jerena BlueDog and was raised in Waubay, S.D., where he attended Enemy Swim Day School and Waubay High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1972, then served in the Army as a commissioned officer in the First Cavalry Division.
Following his military service, he enrolled in the University of Minnesota Law School. He was admitted to the Minnesota bar in 1977.
He began his legal career at a law firm in Madison, Wis., which led to a seven-year stint as an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. He moved back to the Twin Cities in 1990 and opened a law office in Edina.
BlueDog served as chief judge for the Fond du Lac, Lower Sioux and Prairie Island tribal courts for more than 20 years.
In addition, he served on the board of directors for the National Indian Gaming Association for nearly 25 years and in the leadership of the Minnesota Historical Society for four years.
“It was a great honor to serve with Kurt on the MNHS Executive Council,” said Bemidji State Prof. Anton Treuer. “His decades of service and advocacy for justice have shaped our state and country in many ways. His unflappable determination was a true inspiration for me.”
BlueDog is survived by his wife of 40 years, Violet BlueDog; two daughters, Kristin Hendricks and Brandy Late; a son, Brian BlueDog; hunka-daughter (an honorary title) Michelle Mills; stepson Chad Mills; four sisters, Sandra Melius, Roxanne Roberts, Bridgette Roberts and Debra Roberts Ross, and a brother, Kevin Roberts.
Services have been held.