An Architect of Self-Determination Act Honored by U.S. Senator

ICTMN Staff
7/28/13

 

On July 24, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, recognized the significant contributions of Forrest Gerard to Indian country in a floor statement to the U.S. Senate. Mr. Gerard joined the staff of Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) in 1971. He was appointed the first Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Gerard, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, was one of the primary architects of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Act by Senator Jackson in 1973. The Act, which passed Congress in 1974 and was signed by President Gerald Ford in 1975, reversed a policy of termination and assimilation, and launched the era of self-governance and self-determination, which continues to guide federal Indian policy today.

In her statement, Senator Cantwell applauded Gerard for his commitment to tribal sovereignty. “Today we recognize Forrest Gerard for his dedication, intelligence, and persistence, which paved the way for the political achievements that transformed the landscape of Indian affairs,” Cantwell said. “Tribes now have greater autonomy in managing their resources, preserving their cultures, and utilizing their land base.”

Cantwell emphasized Gerard’s role in strengthening the government-to-government relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. Gerard helped promote a shared goal of tribal self-determination and self-governance. Today, Cantwell said, that relationship is a mature one.

“I think we are long overdue in commending Forrest for his pioneering, industrious career as a voice for Indian country,” Cantwell said. “Today we celebrate his leadership in charting a new path for American Indians – a path that won the support of Congress, tribal governments, and the nation.”

Gerard’s service began with the U.S. Army Air Corps as a member of a bomber crew in World War II. After flying 35 combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe, he became the first member of his family to attend college, receiving a bachelor’s degree from University of Montana in 1949.

Over the next two decades, Gerard worked for the state of Montana, the newly formed Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a legislative liaison officer, and the Director of the Office for Indian Progress in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Forrest spent the last 30 years advising Indian people on how to effectively participate in developing policy with government leaders and how to be part of the political process.

 

The full text of Senator Cantwell’s floor statement follows:

 

Mr. President, on the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1973, I rise to honor a distinguished advocate for Indian country and one of the key architects of the Act, Forrest J. Gerard, and recognize him for a lifetime committed to public service.

Forrest, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, was the first American Indian to draft and facilitate the passage of Indian legislation through Congress. During the 1970s, Forrest partnered with Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson to dramatically change the United States’ policy on Indian affairs. Together, they ended the policy of termination and assimilation, and launched the era of self-governance and self-determination, which continues to guide federal Indian policy today.

Forrest’s service began with the U.S. Army Air Corps as a member of a bomber crew in World War II. After flying 35 combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe, he became the first member of his family to attend college, receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana in 1949.

Over the next two decades, Forrest worked for the state of Montana, the newly formed Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a legislative liaison officer, and as the Director of the Office for Indian Progress in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. His goal was to enable future generations of Indian leaders to build healthy and educated communities.

Forrest arrived at the United States Senate in 1971 to work with Senator Jackson, then Chair of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Senator Jackson had become a strong supporter of self-determination, and believed Forrest Gerard, with his significant background with federal agencies and his understanding of the American Indian experience, would bring an important perspective to the debate. Forrest was able to combine significant issue expertise with his solid relationships with tribes to enact meaningful legislation that would alter the course of Indian affairs.

Forrest’s unique skills and relationships played a critical role in producing the landmark Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. With the leadership of Senator Jackson and Forrest Gerard, this critical bill was signed by President Ford in 1975 and remains the basis for federal dealings with tribal governments.

Following the success of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, Forrest worked to strengthen tribal governance by helping to pass the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and the Submarginal Lands Act.

As Native American journalist Mark Trahant put it, “Gerard did great work – subtly, without fanfare, and too often without recognition or even thanks. His approach was honesty and directness in dealing with Indian country, and he never wavered in his loyalty to the tribes.”

Today we recognize Forrest Gerard for his dedication, intelligence, and persistence, which paved the way for the political achievements that transformed the landscape of Indian affairs. Tribes now have greater autonomy in managing their resources, preserving their cultures, and utilizing their land base. And the government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribes is now a mature relationship.

Forrest Gerard was honored for his work by the National Congress of American Indians. In 1997 President Jimmy Carter appointed him to be the first Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Forrest spent the last 30 years advising Indian people on how to effectively participate in developing policy with government leaders and be part of the political process. Forrest truly has devoted his life to empowering tribal communities.

I think we are long overdue in commending Forrest for his pioneering, industrious career as a voice for Indian country. Today we celebrate his leadership in charting a new path for American Indians – a path that won the support of Congress, tribal governments, and the nation.

Forrest Gerard is a hero among a new generation of great Indian leaders. And his contributions will be remembered forever.

 

A Senate Committee on Indian Affairs press release.

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