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Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

The legacy of civil rights legend John Lewis has impacted many in Indian Country.

Lewis died July 17 at age 80. The long-serving Georgia Democratic congressman will be buried Thursday at a private ceremony in Atlanta. Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, a group led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that had the greatest impact on the movement. He was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

A memorial service held in Washington, D.C., this week drew congressional leaders from both parties. Lewis was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. On Sunday, his flag-draped casket was carried across the bridge in his memory.

Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, a New Mexico Democrat, posted a short video on social media after attending the Capitol service.

“I sat there just realizing how fortunate I was to serve with John Lewis for nearly two years, but also have him in this world to fight for many people,” Haaland said. “I’m incredibly grateful for him and all his amazing work he did. He really made his life count.”

Republican Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw Nation, of Oklahoma, also attended the memorial service.

“It was a very moving ceremony that rightly recognized John’s many years of distinguished service and his significant contributions to our country, including his unmatched leadership role in the continual struggle for civil rights,” Cole said on Facebook. “I will always have the utmost admiration for John Lewis, and I am exceedingly grateful that I had the opportunity to serve with him for many years and call him my friend.”

Both Haaland and Cole also issued statements not long after Lewis’ death.

(Related article: Civil rights icon John Lewis dies at age 80)

Standing alongside Ed Bolling and Rep. John Lewis, ICMN Editorial Cartoonist Marty Two Bulls (standing with his wife) Wins $5,000 as Herblock Award Finalist. Photo: Vincent Schilling

Reps. Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, an Oklahoma Republican, and Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, a Kansas Democrat, each shared memories of Lewis on social media.

“John Lewis was a civil rights icon who dedicated his life to fighting for equality,” Mullin said. “It was an honor to serve alongside him in Congress and his legacy will continue on.”

Davids posted a photo of Lewis, saying the country lost a true patriot.

“May we honor his legacy by continuing his commitment to justice and equality, and to cause good trouble along the way,” she said.

Lewis’ death also affected young people in Indian Country.

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United National Indian Tribal Youth co-Presidents Brittany McKane, Muscogee Creek, and Robert Scottie Miller, Swinomish, highlighted Lewis’ own impact before the age of 25 and thanked him for his service in a joint statement.

“As a youth, he created an everlasting impact with his actions, sacrificing his own safety to fight for what was right. He caused good trouble to create necessary change. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of liberty for his people, both present and unborn.”

UNITY statement on the passing of John Lewis. (Graphic courtesy of UNITY)

Mary Kim Titla, executive director of United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY), said Lewis showed anyone can make a difference at any age.

“As UNITY pursues its mission to build a strong, unified and self-reliant Native America, through youth involvement, we can hold John Lewis up as someone to emulate,” said Titla, San Carlos Apache.

NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen said he marched with Lewis in a protest against the Iraq War nearly 20 years ago. In a statement, Tilsen said Lewis’ legacy is a call to action to fight for justice.

“He believed that change could not wait and that we must act now and in this moment if we want things to change,” Tilsen said.

“We are now at a time and place in this country in which we are actively dismantling white supremacy and systemic racism. Civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action are required to change the system, to maintain the momentum and catalyze this nation forward.”

How to watch John Lewis' funeral

Date: Thursday, July 30, 2020
Time: 11 a.m. Eastern Time
Location: Ebenezer Baptist Church Horizon Sanctuary (Atlanta, Georgia)
Online stream: C-SPAN and other news organizations

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter - @daltonwalker

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.