The following is a reflection on the life of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) from Brian Patterson, president of United South and Eastern Tribes.
Honor. Brave. Patriotic. Those three words come to mind as Indian country pauses to remember and pay respect to the passing of an honored, brave and patriotic warrior, Hawaii Senator, Daniel Inouye in Washington, D.C.
Honor is not a large enough word to describe Senator Inouye. His bravery in World War II set the tone for his life. He is honored through his bravery and patriotism by serving in the military, despite being labeled an “enemy alien,” something not unfamiliar to American Indian families.
American Indians will long remember Senator Inouye for his service on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He literally ushered in a new era of Tribal relations with the Congress and was forever one of Indian country’s staunchest allies. He read the Treaties and understood the commitment that the United States made to its Native peoples and lived his personal and political life accordingly. The Oneida Indian Nation passed a two rows wampum belt to Senator Inouye. The wampum belt symbolizes the six nations in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The wampum has the power to make a good mind.
I think if a man could exemplify my constant refrain that relationships are paramount and everything else is derivative, I would point to Senator Inouye. He’s a man who really understood the concepts of the importance of relationships and not only of those he represented and the lives he touched within Indian country, but also he really understood that concept in advancing the concerns of Native Hawaiians as well as all Americans. So it’s truly a sad day for Indian country. We lost, first and foremost, a friend.
He was a great friend to USET and its member tribes. Many of them remember the Senator visiting their homes or being with him on special occasions. “He (Senator Inouye) was a good one! I will always remember being there with Charles Shay (Member of the Penobscot Indian Nation and War Hero), when He and the Senator (Inouye) received the Legion of Honor award from French President (Nicolas) Sarkozy,” says Penobscot Chief and USET Treasurer Kirk Francis.
Senator Inouye will be missed as a leader and mentor for American Indians and our entire country. The Senator was tireless in his endeavors and pursuits to improve the standard of living in Indian country and strengthening tribal sovereignty by holding the United States accountable to its trust responsibilities for American Indians. But, more than his legislative work, Indian country draws strength from the positive example of how humans should treat other humans. He honored every person, without regard to race, color or creed.
The state of Hawaii and the Senate may fill his seat in Congress, but Senator Inouye will be forever missed in the heart of American Indians. His extraordinary legacy in the pursuit of justice for all Americans, including his extraordinary commitment to Indian country, lives on, and will make an impact for no less than seven generations. USET extends a warm and heartfelt Aloha to Senator Inouye as he crosses over into the spirit world.
Brian Patterson, Oneida Indian Nation, is president of the United South and Eastern Tribes.