Ross Swimmer attended Putnam City High School during his junior and senior years, where he played the clarinet in band. He went on to attend the University of Oklahoma where he was a member of the Pride of Oklahoma marching band and Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. Swimmer obtained an undergraduate degree in political science in 1965 and received his juris doctorate in 1967.
Swimmer’s Native American heritage and work in real estate law intersected when he performed pro bono work for the Cherokee Nation Housing Authority, later becoming in-house counsel for the Cherokee Nation. He began work for the Nation in an official capacity in 1972 and became Principal Chief in 1975.
He remained in this capacity until 1983, when he left at the request of President Ronald Reagan to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Interior-Indian Affairs. Swimmer was instrumental in helping western tribes secure water rights and providing funds for projects that allowed tribes to use that water for agricultural and business projects on reservations.
Swimmer went on to the law firm of Hall Estill where his focus was again on the betterment of Native American people. His work resulted in several tribal settlements and work for the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. Swimmer served as president of Cherokee Nation Industries, Inc. before being asked by President George W. Bush and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to return to Washington as the director of Indian Trust Transition at the Department of the Interior. In 2003 President Bush nominated Swimmer to become the Special Trustee for American Indians, an appointment requiring senate approval.
He is married to Margaret (McConnell) Swimmer and has two adult sons, Joseph and Michael. He and his wife started Swimmer Group, LLC, a consulting firm, in 2009. The couple splits their time between Tulsa and Washington, DC. Swimmer currently works as a registered investment advisor in partnership with Native American Fund Advisors, a Tulsa-based investment advising firm specializing in work with American Indian Tribes.