2011 file photo: Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, president pro temper of the Senate, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor, attends a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

A senator who championed Native Americans

  • Article by: LEONARD PRESCOTT
  • December 27, 2012 - 7:59 PM

My deep-felt regrets to a champion in Indian country, as we see that one of our honorary chiefs has gone home to the spirit world. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, has passed on, leaving a great legacy and gifts to the Indian people.

It was a young Dan Inouye who experienced prejudice firsthand while coming out of World War II when a barber told him, "We don't cut Jap hair." Rather than pummel this man to his knees, he merely said, "I feel sorry for you, sir," and walked out the door.

It was because of that experience, and looking across at racial turmoil throughout the 1960s and '70s, that the senator was moved to become chairman of the Senate Select Committee of Indian Affairs. He recognized that there had been 505 treaties between the United States and Native American people throughout history, and that every one of them had been violated. His primary goal was to ensure that these promises to Indian people would no longer be broken.

His other goals included measures to make sure that self-sufficiency, economic development and strong tribal governments would be the mantra of the day, as he accepted his chairmanship position.

In those early days of high-stakes bingo, and later during development of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, I and several other tribal chairman throughout the United States had the honor and privilege of participating in the drawn-out process of reviewing and developing congressional bills that would eventually become the 1988 act. The results of that law are almost too beneficial to conceive or believe could ever happen in tribal lands that were the most poverty-stricken areas in the United States.

Sen. Inouye pushed to make a five-panel select committee into one that was composed of 10 members, to handle the vast amount of work needed to address the many issues in Indian country.

My prayers and thoughts are with the senator and his family and all of the stronger tribal governments he leaves behind.

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Leonard Prescott is former chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Mystic Lake Casino and the National Indian Gaming Association, and is CEO of EagleVisions Sustainable Products and Consulting Services.

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