Dan Inouye was one of the giants of our time, serving in the Senate for 50 years and in the House before that. Senator Inouye's tenure in Congress reaches back to Hawaii's statehood and the election of President John F. Kennedy. His tenure reaches forward to the election of President Barack Obama, whom he served as a mentor and councilor.
Senator Inouye was a warrior for our Nation and a warrior for civil rights. After surviving Pearl Harbor, when the United States interned his Japanese American people as foreign enemies, Dan Inouye left his job as a Sunday school teacher to volunteer for the Army. He fought in some of the most fierce battles in the Allied liberation of Italy, leading his men through danger. He lost his arm and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, leading his men in the capture of a fiercely fortified German redoubt. Later, he secured an American apology to the Japanese American people for their wrongful internment.
He was a champion who stood strong and firm in his beliefs, which were instilled on to him as a young boy by his mother to do whatever he could to help his people and he truly cared for our Native people.
In 1986, Senator Inouye was appointed as the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, which he later used his influence in the Senate to establish as a full Committee. As Chairman, Senator Inouye moved some of the most important Indian legislation of our time through the Senate, including:
— The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act;
— Established the National Museum of the American Indian;
— The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act;
— The Tribal Self-Governance Act;
— The American Indian Trust Fund Management Act;
— The Indian Financing Act;
— The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act; and
— The Native American Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act.
Senator Inouye recognized the difficult history between the United States and Native Americans. Addressing the United States Apology to Native Americans, Senator Inouye said:
"In our early days as a nation, we entered into treaties with Native Americans pursuant to the provisions of the U.S. Constitution that recognize them as sovereigns. But later, we abandoned the path of an honorable course of dealings, and turned to war…. The treaties could have signaled a return to a course of honorable dealings … had the United States not proceeded to break provisions in every single one of the treaties…."
When Indian country faced difficult times and outside interest groups attacked Indian rights, Indian country could completely rely on Senator Inouye's support for American Indian rights. For example, in the 109th Congress, when Indian gaming was under attack, Senator Inouye worked to provide fairness and to protect the integrity of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell said of his longtime friend and colleague, "I was saddened to learn of the passing of my dear friend, Danny Inouye. Senator Inouye was both a mentor and a brother to me. He was a great American who served his country as a war hero and as a great statesman.
"When I was chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, he was my vice chair, and when he was chairman, I was his vice chair. There was never any partisanship on our committee, we always shared the gavel. There would not even have been a full committee on Indian Affairs in the senate, if not for Senator Inouye. Senator Inouye was a champion of Indian sovereignty and a man of enormous compassion. He was the go-to guy for Indian country.
"There will never be another Dan Inouye. I am happy to have been a part of his life."
Statement of Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, U.S. Senator (CO-Retired).
Senator Inouye was a champion for Indian sovereignty, and while he was not a supporter of gaming, he respected the right of Indian nations as sovereigns to choose gaming to provide for their communities, and would often tell us "Never give up your sovereignty. It is the foundation for your survival."
Senator Inouye was like a father to us. He was Indian country's champion. To us, he is a true Chief, vested with dignity, love for the American people and our Nation, and a deep sense of the Nation's honor.
Senator Inouye had a special place in his heart for Native peoples, and we embrace the legacy that he left to tribal governments. His work is embedded in the growing presence Indian country asserts in Washington, D.C. today. He is our foundation.
We honor and thank Senator Inouye for all of his work, his friendship, and support. On behalf of Indian country, we wish him well on the journey to the Spirit World.