U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, 88, passed away December 17 due to respiratory complications after having been hospitalized since early December, his office has confirmed.
His last word was reportedly, “Aloha.”
Inouye had served in the U.S. Congress since 1959, and had long been a strong advocate for American Indians and tribal sovereignty and self-determination. His role as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman was useful time and again for tribes and federal Indian affairs interests. He sponsored and supported numerous tribal and Indian-focused bills and funding throughout his service.
“Indian country has lost its greatest champion in the history of the United States Senate,” said Chris Stearns, a Navajo lawyer and chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission. “When he started serving in Congress, the federal policies of termination, relocation, and Public Law 280 hung like a specter over Indian country. Inouye helped forge an entirely new dynamic, a relationship premised on self-determination, honesty, respect, and cooperation during what turned out to be the terms of 11 different U.S. presidents.
“Inouye's unquestioned stature in the Senate meant that even when things looked the bleakest, Indian country always had the support of one of the most powerful men in Congress,” Stearns added.
Meeting with Indian leaders at the Democratic National Convention in September, Inouye said tribes should “speak with one voice” on big issues, in order to have the greatest impact and success.
Earlier this month, Inouye had been named by Democrats to serve once again on the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in the next session of Congress, starting in 2013.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and longtime colleague of Inouye, was scheduled to make a statement on the Senate floor commemorating Inouye’s life and times on the evening of December 17.