James Abourezk, a South Dakota Democrat who grew up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and went on to become the first Arab American U.S. senator, died Friday. He was 92.
How did James Abourezk Die?
Abourezk died on his birthday at home in Sioux Falls after entering hospice care earlier this week, according to his son Charles Abourezk. James Abourezk was surrounded by his wife, Sanaa Abourezk, and other family members while in hospice. During the 1970s, Abourezk served South Dakota in the United States House and Senate for single terms, exemplifying a type of Democratic politician known as a Prairie Populist. He campaigned vigorously — and with wit — for those he saw as oppressed: farmers, consumers, and Native Americans.
The Career of James Abourezk:
Abourezk was the first chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and was instrumental in establishing the American Indian Policy Reform Commission. It resulted in a comprehensive review of federal policy with American Indian tribes, as well as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and the Indian Child Welfare Act, all of which were landmark pieces of legislation intended to reduce the alarming rate at which Native American children were removed from their homes and placed with white families.
When the American Indian Movement seized and occupied Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973 to protest the federal government’s treatment of Native American tribes, Abourezk and fellow South Dakota Democrat Sen. George McGovern travelled there to negotiate with activists involved in a standoff with federal law enforcement.
Abourezk also led an unsuccessful campaign against natural gas deregulation, which hiked consumer prices, and became an outspoken opponent of US policy in the Middle East. In 1978, he declined to run for reelection.
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