An attorney and key figure in Indian country, Jess Green recently passed, and it sure didn’t take long after the news was spread for kind words to come pouring out.
Green was born in Ada, Okla., which is where he then went on to make his living. He began practicing law in 1977 and was elected to the Chickasaw Nation Legislature in 1983, going on to become the first chairman there since Oklahoma became a state.
Green was a tireless advocate for tribal rights and he played many roles in Indian country, including eight years as a state court judge, tribal court prosecutor, tribal court trial judge and Chickasaw Nation Supreme Court Chief Justice. He held various positions over the years, serving as vice chairman for the American Bar Association Judiciary Committee, chairman of the Oklahoma Bar Association Indian Law Section, chairman of the Chickasaw Bar Association and two terms as chairman for the General Practice Solo and Small Firm section of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
Green participated in the prosecution and defense of Class II gaming in two of the five federal cases that frame lawful Class II play, the U.S. v. MegaMania Gambling Devices and Ashcroft v. Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, et al. cases. The latter resulted in allowing all Class II games to use entertaining displays, as well as the insulation of Class II gaming from Johnson Act enforcement by the federal government. Green helped establish the first tribal juvenile court in Oklahoma after the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act. He also founded his own private practice law firm in Ada, where he practiced until his death.
He received many awards for his service to Indian country, including the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) Lifetime Achievement Award 2012, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) Chairman’s Award for Extraordinary Service 2012, Oklahoma Supreme Court Service Award 2012, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma Appreciation Medal 2012 (fourth ever), Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Regulators Association Service Award 2012, John Kieffer Award 2011, Tim Wapato Sovereign Warrior Award 2011, Service Award from the Chickasaw Nation Bar Association 2010, Service Award from G2E 2010, Chairman Leadership Award from NIGA 2009, Warrior Award from OIGA 2008, Outstanding Service Award from OIGA 2001 and International Masters of Gaming Law award as Chairman of the Native American Section. He was also inducted into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame in 2011.
Other high-profile tribal leaders have spoken out regarding his hard work. In a statement, NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. said: “Jess Green was a brother, friend, colleague and advocate for Indian country and has shown tireless dedication on behalf of Indian sovereignty, and a selfless commitment to Indian economic development in his work as an attorney representing Indian country in the private practice of law second to none. We honor his strong commitment to Indian country.”
Green is survived by his wife, Nancy McAlister Green; parents, J. L. and Mary Jo Thomas Green; son, Judd Green; daughter, Destiny Green; stepdaughter, Charity Risner; a sister; two grandchildren; and many other relatives and friends.