M. Franklin Keel
M. Franklin Keel was born Oct. 20, 1946, in Lawton, Oklahoma, to Douglas Keel, a Chickasaw career army sergeant and Christine Jefferson, who was half Choctaw and half Chickasaw. Reared in humble circumstances, Mr. Keel rose to represent First Americans at the highest levels of government, and in the cultural and educational arenas, with integrity and distinction.
Mr. Keel graduated from Lawton High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts in 1968 before serving in the U.S. Air Force. He later worked as an administrative assistant with the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory.
In 1971, Mr. Keel became the first Native American commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer by the U.S. Diplomatic Corps. First assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, he performed with distinction while representing U.S. interests overseas. Since then, he has mentored young Native Americans interested in pursuing a foreign affairs career.
Sparked by a desire to serve First Americans, Mr. Keel graduated from Oklahoma City University Law School in 1978 and assisted First Americans through his work with Legal Aid in Lawton. Building on his legal background and expertise in U.S. Indian policy, he was often invited to speak at universities and law schools across the country.
Mr. Keel was appointed to the Federal Senior Executive Service, the highest rank of the career U.S. Civil Service. In 37 years with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he earned the highest ratings for superior performance in his roles promoting First American interests on Capitol Hill as Congressional Liaison and as Director of the Office of Trust, Superintendent of the Concho Agency and Regional Director. In 1997, Mr. Keel was appointed as Director of the Eastern Region, Bureau of Indian Affairs. He received the Department of the Interior Outstanding Service Award for his leadership in directing aid to affected tribes after Hurricane Katrina. He served the 28 tribes of the largest and most diverse region until his retirement in 2014.
In representing the Chickasaw Nation throughout his career, Mr. Keel’s international influence is unparalleled. He personally carried greetings from the Chickasaw Nation to foreign political leaders, including Prime Minister (now President) Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Gűl of Turkey, Deputy Minister Volgin of Russia, Lord Alderdice of England and Deputy Minister Nazimov of Azerbaijan, among others. He also acted as the sole U.S. representative at international meetings concerning Indigenous peoples in Russia, Turkey, Canada and Mexico.
His legal and policy expertise grounded the decisions and actions that define his extraordinarily successful career and legacy.