A tribal organization is honoring a U.S. Senator from South Dakota for legislation he pushed through Congress forty years ago.
The Tribal Interior Budget Council gathered in Rapid City earlier this month, and recognized Former Senator James Abourezk.
Officials say he was instrumental in passing key legislation that fostered tribal self-governance.
James Abourezk was a one term U.S. Senator. But during his time in congress he was able to pass several laws boosting tribal sovereignty.
Abourezk authored much of the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Indian Self-Determination Act and the Indian Religious Freedom Act.
He says being honored by tribal members means a great deal to him. Abourezk says much of the inspiration for the laws he helped create came from his childhood.
“I was born and raised on the Rosebud reservation," Abourezk says. "And I ran around and played with Indian kids all the time. And there was a lot of racism, probably including me, back in those days against Indians. And I snapped out of it when I was in college. I understood now what I was doing was demeaning Indians and I should not have—I should never have done it but I’ve gotten over that now.”
Abourezk was also instrumental in increasing the amount of money associated with the Black Hills treaty land claim, which tribal nations still haven’t accepted.
Gay Kingman is the Executive Director of the Great Plains Tribal Chair Association. She says, decades after leaving office, Abourezk still calls her to comment on current legislation…
“He continued to advocate for Indian people, and he represented many of the tribes and the people. He still calls me now and then. He’ll call and, I know he’s in failing health now—he’s of an age—but he’s still very strong,” Kingman says.
Former Senator James Abourezk was unable to attend the Tribal Interior Budget Council ceremony held to honor his work due to health issues. His son Charlie read from a prepared statement in Rapid City. Charlie then accepted a gift on behalf of his father.
“He’s still got it, I hope he doesn’t try to keep it,” James Abourezk says.
Abourezk was both a U.S. Representative and Senator for most of the 1970’s.