National Indian Gaming Association honors the late Catawba Nation Chief Gilbert Blue

The Catawba Nation is flying flags at half-staff all week in mourning of the Gilbert Blue, who passed away on June 11, 2016, at the age of 82. Photo from Catawba Indian Nation / Facebook

The National Indian Gaming Association is joining Indian Country in mourning the passing of Gilbert Billy Larson Blue, the legendary former leader of the Catawba Nation of South Carolina.

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens worked closely with Blue on gaming, sovereignty, civil rights and other issues. The pair were among 19 activists who were arrested in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in October 1998 for protesting the lack of minority law clerks at the nation's highest court.

"Chief Blue was a very close friend and mentor to me early in my work in Washington, D.C. As the former first Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, I could always look to the Chief for carefully thought-out strategy to move our important issues forward," Stevens, who held his National Congress of American Indians post at the time of the Supreme Court protest, said in a press release.

Gilbert Blue, 1933-2016. Photo from Catawba Indian Nation / Facebook

Blue, who passed away on June 11 at the age of 82, led his people for 34 years. His biggest achievement was securing a land claim settlement and federal recognition for the tribe in 1993.

The Catawba Indian Tribe of South Carolina Land Claims Settlement Act, however, bars the tribe from taking advantage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It instead requires the tribe to follow the state's gaming frameworks, a limitation that has led the current leadership to pursue a casino on ancestral territory in neighboring North Carolina.

Blue is being laid to rest on the reservation on Wednesday. Flags are flying at half-staff all week as the tribe comes together to pay tribute to their former leader.

"Chief Blue was a warrior for his people and for Indian Country as a whole. He was someone we could count on. He was a contemporary hero and will be sadly missed," Stevens said.

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