William Roy "Bill" Rhodes
Gila River Indian Community
1933 - 2017
Washington, DC - January 06, 2018 - The National Indian Gaming Association is saddened to hear of the passing of one of Indian Country's greatest advocates for tribal sovereignty, William R. Rhodes, 84, former governor of the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona.
According to a press release issued by the Gila River Indian Community, Rhodes passed on to the spirit world on Thursday, December 28, 2017, at home. In a statement, Gila River Governor Stephen Roe Lewis said of the former leader's passing "It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of one of the leaders and elders of our Community."
Lewis added, "On behalf of our tribal government, and our Community members, I extend our deepest condolences to the Rhodes family, and we extend our sincerest thoughts and prayers. As we reflect on the life of Governor Rhodes, we are grateful for his service, commitment, and devotion to the Community."
He was born on Feb. 9, 1933, in Phoenix and was a son of Virginia Rhodes. Rhodes began his career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and later moved to the Gila River Police Department. He was the first Native American Deputy Sheriff with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office from 1965 to 1968.
Throughout the years, Rhodes served on many boards and volunteer organizations. He was an elder with the Goodyear Presbyterian Church and has served on the Native American Committee on Native American Ministries for many years.
He served the Gila River Indian Community for over 30 years, serving at various times in all three branches of the tribal government. He served as Chief Judge of the Gila River Indian Community Court for 15 years during the 1970's and '80's. During that formative period for tribal courts, he worked with such organizations as the National Indian Court Judges Association to provide leadership to his own tribal community and to other tribal communities seeking to develop their own tribal courts.
Thereafter, he was elected Lt. Governor and then was elected as Council representative from District Four, where he served three terms. He returned to the Court when he was again elected as Chief Judge of the Gila River Indian Community Court. During Chief Judge Rhodes' most recent tenure, the Gila River Indian Community Court modernized its facility and procedures to reflect the changing times and increasing case-load, and also increased the number of elected judges to deal with the increasing number of court cases.
In 2003, he was elected as Governor of the Gila River Indian Community. He was re-elected to a second term as Governor, where he served until his retirement.
Following his retirement from public office, he continued to remain active in family, church and community activities.
He is survived by his wife, Ruby; a son, Patrick Rhodes and nine other adult children; 32 grandchildren; 41 great-grandchildren; and several great-great-grandchildren.
NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. said, "Governor Rhodes was a true champion for Indian country, and he was a great mentor to many, myself included. I always looked up to Governor Rhodes because of his stature and experience." Stevens added, "He was a humble man, who led his community with great diplomacy. He was one of the strongest advocates for all of Indian country. It was my honor to work along-side Governor Rhodes; he was truly a champion for tribal sovereignty."
In 2011, Rhodes was a recipient the National Indian Gaming Association's prestigious Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award. Upon accepting his award during the annual Indian Gaming 2011 conference banquet, Rhodes humbly told the audience, "No one achieves anything alone, these successes are as much yours as they are mine." Rhodes added, "We are all here for one purpose, to help our people regain full independence and sovereignty. We're here to safeguard the knowledge of our elders, our language and the way of life."
Funeral services were held today, January 6, 2018, at 9:00 am at the Goodyear Church in Goodyear, Arizona. Goodyear Presbyterian Church in Goodyear Village, Arizona, and the burial at the Snaketown Cemetery.