NCAI in Memory of Daniel Inouye: Former Chair of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii passed away yesterday, Monday December 17, 2012, at the age of 88, with his wife and son by his side at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, DC.  A World War II combat veteran, Inouye served the second-longest term of any U.S. senator in history, representing the great State of Hawaii since its statehood in 1959. Inouye was a prominent member and leader of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, serving as its chairman for ten years during two different periods. He passed away from respiratory complications.


The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) released a statement following the loss of a great friend and warrior for the rights of all people, including Indigenous peoples and tribal nations:


“Senator Inouye was one of the most honorable and courageous men modern Indian Country has known. He was a distinguished warrior, and he served his country and people with dignity and a strong sense of advocacy. As a member and chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs he championed the rights of Native peoples, and we will always remember him for holding the line on numerous issues critical to cultural protection and tribal sovereignty. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time. This country has lost a true patriot and statesman.


In the words of our Native Hawaiian brothers and sisters we say Mahalo nui loa for his service and commitment and will forever remember this son of Hawaii as a great leader.”


Inouye’s outstanding commitment to Indian affairs was demonstrated by his long service on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, serving as the Chairman from 1987 – 1995, the Vice-Chairman from 1995  – 1997, and again as Chairman from 2001 – 2003.  He was slated to continue his role as a committee member in the 113th Congress.


Throughout his incredible tenure, Inouye worked closely with NCAI and American Indian and Alaska Native tribes as he advocated for tribal sovereignty, tribal colleges and universities, and housing and community development, among many other issues. He also supported the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and was later able to secure funding for Native Hawaiians to purchase property as a part of the Home Lands effort. Senator Inouye was honored by NCAI in 1999 with the NCAI Leadership Award for his service to Indian Country.


The official statement released by Inouye’s office describes his long history of military service:


“Senator Inouye began his career in public service at the age of 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He served with ‘E’ company of the 442 Regimental Combat Team, a group consisting entirely of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Senator Inouye lost his arm charging a series of machine gun nests on a hill in San Terenzo, Italy on April 21, 1945. His actions during that battle earned him the Medal of Honor.”


Inouye, a second-generation Japanese-American, was a true son of Hawaii who created a national legacy of leadership. His role as the first Japanese-American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, and later the first in the U.S. Senate, blazed a trail for the record number of Asian Americans now serving in Congress.  Fourteen total members were set to make up the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in 2013, with five new Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders elected to serve in the 113th United States Congress – the largest caucus of Asian American and Pacific Islander Members in any single congressional session.