WASHINGTON – A respected advocate of Native American-focused policy in the U.S. House of Representatives has decided that he will not seek re-election. Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., made the announcement on July 15.
If The Flint, Michigan-based congressman would have run and won re-election, he would have served a 19th term. He was first elected to the House in 1976 after serving in the Michigan legislature.
“For more than 30 years, Dale Kildee has never forgotten the people he represents or what drives his work in the United States Congress,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “We will miss Dale's voice in Congress.”
Kildee’s age, 81, and long service were contributing factors in his decision to end his career in Congress. He has suggested that he will support the candidacy of his nephew, former county treasurer Dan Kildee, to take over the seat.
“It's time,” he told The Detroit News. “I've been here 35 years, and you hear an inner voice. I'm still in good health, but you get a feeling it's time for someone else to come in and make their contribution.”
Beyond serving as ranking member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and a senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Kildee founded the House Native American Caucus in 1997. With the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, Kildee and all Democrats have had less power to push forward their own Native agendas. In recent years, Kildee has also been an advocate of the House creating a more powerful Committee on Indian Affairs.
Chris Stearns, a Navajo Nation citizen and lawyer, worked with Kildee during his time serving on the House in the 1990s on the Natural Resources Committee. “He was a forceful, quiet, and thoughtful man,” said Stearns, former committee counsel to the House Natural Resources Committee. “No one ever for a second doubted that he always carried the tribes’ best interests in his heart.”
At the 2009 White House Tribal Nations Conference, Kildee said it was important that Indians view themselves as tribal citizens, and not just members. “A tribe is not a club,” Kildee said. “It is a sovereign nation.”
In the current session of Congress, Kildee introduced H.R. 1234 in an effort to amend the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 to clarify that the Secretary of the Interior has the authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized Indian tribes, regardless of when that tribe was recognized. The legislation is meant to remove uncertainty caused by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, which stated that the Secretary of the Interior could only take land into trust for tribes that were federally recognized at the time of the IRA’s enactment in 1934.
“The Supreme Court’s literal interpretation of the Indian Reorganization Act ignores the congressional intent of the original legislation and would reverse years of progress,” Kildee said. “By clarifying the language of the Indian Reorganization Act, we will put to rest any question as to the Secretary of the Interior’s authority to take land into trust for tribes. This legislation will uphold the original intent of the IRA and ensure that all federally recognized tribes are able to utilize the land trust process, regardless of when they were recognized.”
Kildee has reportedly missed only 28 votes out of 21,236 cast, which is a 99.9 percent voting record.