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Tribal advocate Wapato, 73, dies

Sherman T. “Tim” Wapato (Courtesy of the Wapato family)
Sherman T. “Tim” Wapato (Courtesy of the Wapato family)

Colville member helped negotiate U.S.-Canada pact

Sherman T. “Tim” Wapato, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes and advocate for tribal sovereignty, died at his home in Rapid City, S.D., of heart failure Sunday at age 73.

A 21-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, Wapato retired to become an enforcer of American Indian rights through several prominent organizations.

Following the historic Boldt Decision of 1974, reaffirming Native fishing rights, Wapato became the first executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Commission.

Wapato’s brother, Paul Wapato, recalled Tim’s fight for Indians’ right to part of the salmon catch – and that sport and commercial fishermen at the time thought the decision was a joke.

“?‘OK,’ they said, ‘they won the lawsuit, but they will never make anything of it,’?” he recalled.

But Wapato helped turn the decision into a boon for all the fishing tribes, his brother said.

Wapato also was the first executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, which represents Indian Nations engaged in tribal gaming enterprises.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointed Wapato to the commission that negotiated the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the United States and Canada.

Wapato also was a commissioner for the Administration for Native Americans in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Wapato was born in Chicago in 1935 to Paul G. Wapato Sr. and Elizabeth Wilbert Wapato. The family moved to Winthrop, Wash., where Wapato graduated from high school in 1953. He attended Washington State University and the University of Washington before beginning his law enforcement career. He also served two years in the U.S. Army.

He married Gay Kingman, a Lakota Indian.

Wapato is survived by his wife, of Rapid City; daughters, Keana and Teresa, of California; son, Steve, of Wenatchee; and brothers, Paul, of Spokane, Titus R. Wapato, of Santa Monica, Calif., and James W. Wapato, of Bouse, Ariz.

Funeral services in Rapid City had not yet been arranged.

Contact Kevin Graman at or (509) 459-5433.