Indian Country mourns Sen. Kennedy's passing
Tributes from Indian Country are pouring in after the loss of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), who died on Wednesday at the age of 77.

Kennedy came from a family that had long championed Indian causes. His late brother, John, invited tribal leaders to the White House as president in 1962. His other late brother, Robert, was the first presidential candidate to campaign on a reservation in 1968.

The tradition carried into Kennedy's work in the Senate. He chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Indian Education, which produced Indian Education: A National Tragedy - A National Challenge in 1969, a report that is credited with spurring modern efforts to improve education for American Indian and Alaska Native children.

"His steady hand of leadership watched over Indian education and guided us from the wilderness of disenfranchisement, and being powerless to a position of strength in advocating our needs," Ryan Wilson, a former president of the National Indian Education Association, said in a memorial published on Indianz.Com yesterday.

Kennedy also worked on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which improved voting conditions for American Indians and Alaska Natives. He was an advocate for the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which was first passed in 1976, and had co-sponsored recent bills to reauthorize the law.

"We have lost a strong, true leader in Congress and an unyielding supporter of tribal sovereignty for all Indian nations," National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia said in a statement. "Sen. Kennedy was a champion for all Americans, and specifically for Native people and communities."

In 2004, NCAI turned to Kennedy when the organization took the unprecedented step of opposing a nominee to the federal bench. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Kennedy blasted former Interior Department official Bill Myers for shirking his trust responsibilities to Indian nations.

The opposition led to the defeat of Myers on the Senate floor. "Sen. Kennedy's door was always open to American Indians and Alaska Natives," Garcia said.

Up until his death, Kennedy was pushing for reform of the national health care system. "His support for improving the lives and futures of the American Indian and Alaska Native people, particularly through education and health care, will be remembered warmly by all who knew him. He will be sorely missed, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the Kennedy family," assistant secretary Larry EchoHawk said in a statement.

After memorials in Massachusetts, Kennedy will be buried on Saturday in Arlington National Cemetery, near his two brothers.

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