Remembering Dean Strickland

In Memoriam Rennard Strickland 1940 - 2021 [pictured Rennard Strickland smiling]

long narrow crop of textured brown blue and yellow lines taken from a painting donated by Rennard Strickland to the University of Oregon

Celebrating a Dean and Scholar

Rennard Strickland, former University of Oregon School of Law Dean, passed away January 5, 2021, in Norman, Oklahoma. He was 80 years old. Strickland served as dean from 1997 to 2002, and on the faculty until his retirement in 2006. He was Osage and a citizen of the Cherokee nation and considered a national leader in Indian law. At Oregon Law, Dean Strickland strongly supported the incorporation of Indian law courses into the curriculum and taught a popular seminar on Indian law and policy. Most recently he was the Senior Scholar in Residence at the University of Oklahoma Law Center.


“Rennard has been our visionary, our statesman, our wise elder, and our chief, and he will always have our gratitude for all that he has given us. He has left a profound legacy for us to carry on.”
Mary Wood
Philip H. Knight Professor of Law
Faculty Director, ENR Center
Heather Brinton, Dean Marcilynn A Burke, Strickland Lecture speaker James Anaya, Rennard Strickland, and Mary Wood at the 2017 Rennard Strickland Lecture
From left to right: ENR Center Executive Director Heather Brinton, Oregon Law Dean Marcilynn A. Burke, Strickland Lecture Speaker James Anaya, Rennard Strickland, and ENR Center Faculty Director Mary Wood at the 2017 Rennard Strickland Lecture. 

Part of Strickland’s incredible legacy at Oregon Law School is the annual Rennard Strickland Lecture. The Native Environmental Sovereignty Project, a project of the law school’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center, created this lecture series to examine native leadership in the 21st Century. The lecture is cosponsored by the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics. 

"I met Rennard when I began my journey into academia nearly two decades ago and then was thrilled to grow closer to him in the past few years as the dean of Oregon Law,” current Dean Marcilynn A. Burke said. “He was an inspirational and generous soul with a great sense of humor,” the Dave Frohnmayer Chair of Leadership and Law added.

Strickland recalled in an article on Law Crossing what spurred him to become a law professor.

"When I was in law school, I think it would be safe to say there was no one who hated law school any more than I did. The thought that I would spend my entire life in an institution like law school was something that really didn't occur to me," said Strickland, who was then the Philip H. Knight Professor of Law at the University of Oregon School of Law. It wasn't the subject that Strickland disliked; it was the way courses were taught. Law school in the 1960s, according to Strickland, was a "very sadistic system that was designed to humiliate or, if not humiliate, at least expose the weaknesses [of students] in a very public manner."

Leaving a Legacy 

Rennard Strickland Indian Law and Culture Collection

The Strickland Collection in the University of Oregon Libraries was born from the generous support of leading Native American legal scholar and former UO Law Dean Rennard Strickland. The collection is a rich resource for scholars and researchers of Indian law, tribal law, and the history and culture of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples. In addition to Indian law, the collection includes works of art and literature by Native American authors. Books are identified by special bookplates.

Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History 

In addition to the library collection in Oregon, Strickland left his expansive collection of Western movies, posters, and memorabilia that he had collected over a lifetime to both Arizona State University and the Museum of the West. This collection, potentially one of the most comprehensive collections of Western film memorabilia, reflected his love of Western movies and the interplay between cinema and Native American culture and public perception.

cardboard cut-out of Rennard Strickland at the exhibit of his collection in the Museum of the West, 2017

aerial shot of the movie posters and memorabilia from Strickland's collection at the Museum of the West

Rennard Strickland standing before a birthday cake featuring his most prized movie poster while wearing a tshirt with the same movie poster printed on the front

Oregon Law Remembers

“Rennard Strickland was perhaps the best known and most illustrious scholar in the field of Indian law. Indeed, he is widely acknowledged to be one of the founders of the field. His work editing the 1982 revision of Felix Cohen’s classic 1942 treatise “Handbook on Federal Indian Law” is credited with launching the modern era of Indian law as an academic discipline. Moreover, as Native American himself he served as a role model and inspiration to the legion of young Native American lawyers who now practice in the field and who teach Indian law at law schools across the country. At Oregon Law, Dean Strickland strongly supported the incorporation of Indian law courses into the curriculum and taught a popular seminar on Indian law and policy. He was one of the reasons I became an Adjunct Professor teaching Indian law subjects at Oregon Law more than a decade ago. He was a great man and an inspiration to me and all who came to know him. He will be greatly missed.”
– Howard Arnett
Law Professor of Practice

“Rennard was Dean when I joined the University of Oregon. The moment when I was most grateful for his mentorship came early in my career as a scholar. I was in his office, talking about the challenges I was having with a particular piece of scholarship. He sat thoughtfully, nodded his head, and said, “Well, you know, Michael, there are times when what one needs to do it to take a project out behind the shed and shoot it.” I followed his advice. The world and I are both better off for me never having completed that particular research project. I benefitted from Rennard’s wisdom many times, of course, when I became Dean myself. But his singular ability to speak the truth, even when awkward, was never more valuable than when he guided my early career as a scholar.”
– Michael Moffitt
Philip H. Knight Professor of Law
Faculty-in-Residence, Clark Honors College

“Rennard was an outstanding Dean, and I say that not only because he hired me. Rennard was one of the kindest people I knew. He was soft-spoken, and his amicable demeanor was a fitting shell for his great intellect. He was approachable, and he would engage with people on their own terms, ready to share his immense knowledge about the law, the arts, and Osage culture with anyone who cared to listen. One of my favorite memories of Rennard is when he hosted a group of faculty at the chef's table of a well-known D.C. restaurant in connection with our annual trip to the AALS meeting. As we sat in the kitchen and gorged ourselves on a variety of delicacies, Rennard presided over the camaraderie like the true leader he was. He fostered connection and discourse. He was with us, not above us.  He has left a lasting imprint on me. I will always remember him fondly. May he rest in peace.”
– Merle Weiner
Philip H. Knight Professor of Law

We invite you to share memories of or tributes to Dean Strickland via the button at the bottom of the page. Here are some of the tributes that have been received:

"I arrived as an assistant professor of Native studies at U of Oregon in 2003 and was so glad to have Rennard here. He led a tour of his Native film poster collection that was on display at the Hult Center for my Intro to Native American Studies class, and I learned so much information that I still use. He had a great big beautiful poster from the 1920s or 1930s with a Native man in a headdress but no name on the movie yet– Indians were such a generic prop that it could be used for a thousand movies. So interesting! And some students had the good fortune to take a class with Rennard and Wilma Mankiller during her visiting position with the Wayne Morse Center. So lucky! I’m sure Rennard and Wilma are teaching classes again on the other side. A happy reunion for them, sad for us."
– Brian Klopotek
Associate Professor, Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies, University of Oregon

"I was honored to be part of the editorial board for the 1982 edition of Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law. Recall that work on the 1982 edition of “Cohen” began before the Burger Court’s assault on tribal sovereignty. As our research and writing were underway in the mid- to late 1970s, we witnessed an onslaught of deeply disappointing Supreme Court decisions, including Oliphant and Moe. In his roles of Editor-in-Chief and (informally) chief morale officer, Rennard would not allow us to become discouraged. We should, he insisted, take the long view. Native peoples long predated the United States and its court systems, and would persist as sovereign Indigenous nations no matter what some alien court system pronounced. After all, Native nations had sustained that status in the face of colonization and even genocide. Rennard’s own deep cultural grounding and knowledge underscored his point, and we all took it to heart. My own heart is full of exquisite Rennard memories, from the beautiful art books he published and sent to me to the indelible gift of several private dinners with him in Eugene, Oregon, on the occasion of my presenting the 2016 Rennard Strickland Lecture at University of Oregon Law School. What a blessing to have been his friend and colleague!"
– Carole Goldberg
Distinguished Research Professor of Law, UCLA

"I first met Rennard when I was on an alumni committee interviewing candidates for the deanship. Through the years, we had many discussions of Indian and First Nations issues and art. While in Phoenix to see a UO football game, my wife and I visited the Heard Museum, which houses one of the great collections of Indian and First Nations art. Rennard was a benefactor to the Heard, donating many valuable pieces. When I told him of my visit, he was overjoyed, and we had a wonderful discussion of the genocide of native peoples by the Canadian Potlatch Laws and the American Indian Schools. We would visit every year at the Strickland Lecture. He was a great, warm, generous, humorous, and scholarly man."
– David Jensen
Oregon Law Alumnus

"I had the honor of being a student during Rennard’s first year as Dean and I remember so well the excitement and enthusiasm that he brought to Oregon Law. When he arrived he hosted a dinner for a group of students at his house – it was warm, engaging, fun and just such a soul-filling experience for me as a law student. I then joined him on the faculty at Oregon Law and learned that he is the most generous, thoughtful, humorous and downright strategic colleague one could ask for. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived joining the “academy” with Rennard. His stories and lessons still animate and inform my life. Plus he loved martinis, he loved the name Adelle (his mother’s name) and he loved art – one of the most incredible conversations I ever had with him was about an exhibit I had seen in DC – “The Quilts of Gees Bend” If you don’t know about the quilts of Gees Bend, you should look it up -you wont’ be sorry. And it says so much about him that this exhibit moved him so deeply. THANK YOU Rennard. I will miss you something fierce – may peace be with you on your journey now."
– Adell Amos
Clayton R. Hess Professor of Law, Oregon Law

"A little known fact is that I first met Rennard in 1982 when he offered me a position at the University of Tulsa Law School which I turned down to take a tenured position at UO Law. The next time I met him was when he was considered for dean at the UO Law. I am glad I got to have him as my dean after all. He was kind, funny, wise, and a credit to our profession. We greatly benefited from his leadership and from his connections to the Native American community and the art community. I will miss him."
– Caroline Forell
Professor Emerita, Oregon Law

"While Rennard was Dean my son was in elementary school, second grade I think. His class was studying American Indians in history, and I wanted the class to understand that Indians were not just part of history but were part of our present. I talked with Rennard about it, and he graciously agreed to come meet with the class. One of my favorite memories is of Rennard sitting on the floor with the students, showing them some artifacts he had collected and sharing stories. He was so caring in his teaching, not only with law students but everywhere he went."
– Susan Gary
Professor Emerita, Oregon Law

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Additional Tributes to Dean Strickland

In May of 2021, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) created a memorial for honored colleagues who had passed away. In it, Dean Strickland is remembered fondly by Dean Kevin Washburn of the University of Iowa College of Law. Dean Washburn's tribute begins at minute 21 of the memorial video.