Kim Teehee wrote a heartfelt tribute to Dale Kildee and agreed to allow us to post it here:
I knew the day would come but still I wasn’t prepared to hear that Dale Kildee had passed away. He passed on October 13th, which is also my birthday. My mind is flooded with precious memories. I worked for Dale for 11 ½ years as the first senior advisor to the bipartisan Congressional Native American Caucus. Dale founded the Caucus after anti-Indian measures started passing the House only to be stopped in the Senate. He knew a bipartisan Caucus was necessary to educate Members about Indian country issues. What began as a Caucus of 15 members had grown to over 100 members. My job was to work across partisan divides with House leaders, Caucus members, Committees, and with tribal leaders. As Co-chair of the Caucus, Dale successfully advanced legislation on myriad topics from education, health care, transportation, appropriations to housing. Under his leadership, the Caucus had a 100% success rate that included defeating every anti-Indian proposal. He also enjoyed giving speeches to tribal organizations where he became famous for pulling out his pocket U.S. Constitution and reminding the audience that tribes are sovereign and that sovereignty must be protected. He was a great defender of tribal sovereignty.
Dale had no tribes in his congressional district and people would often ask why he cared so much about the Indians. His commitment began when as a kid his Dad took him to the land in Michigan where a tribe’s village once stood but was burned to ashes when the people refused to leave. He never forgot that story or the other injustices that Native people endured. He had a passion for education too having served as a Latin teacher. When he served in the Michigan state legislature he led the way for the passage of the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver Act, which waived the college tuition of any Michigan Indian who attended a public college. He took his passion for Indians and education to Congress where in the Education and Labor Committee he began slipping “Indian tribes” in every education bill that listed “states” to ensure tribes were expressly included. He also had a special affinity for the Michigan tribes and a deep appreciation of their unique histories. I also enjoyed working with these tribes.
Dale was a devout Catholic and loved his work family as if we were his real family. I am eternally grateful for his unconditional support. When I was tapped for a White House appointment in the Obama Administration, he galvanized congressional support and helped secure my historic position. He was a gentle soul with a warrior’s spirit. He believed in civil discourse. He despised unkindness.
Dale lived a blessed life. He did not fear the inevitable of life. He was comforting to me that way. I last saw Dale two years ago at lunch for his 90th birthday just before the pandemic hit. Something in me knew that would be my last time with him. As we said goodbye, he hugged me and kissed my cheek telling me that he loved me. I love you too, Dale. Rest In Peace.