James Abourezk was a member of both houses of the United States Congress. A Democrat, he was elected from the State of South Dakota. Abourezk was a son of Lebanese immigrants and was the first Arab American to serve in the U.S. Senate.

During the course of his political career, Abourezk was viewed as a leading voice regarding Native American issues. Among his legislative achievements was the landmark Indian Child Welfare Act. Designed to reduce the amount of instances where the Native American children were removed from their families.

Passed away in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

James Abourezk has died, report the Associated Press and Dakota News Now. The date of his passing was February 24, 2023 - it was his birthday. No cause of death was immediately released to the public. But it had been earlier reported that his health was in serious decline.

Among those paying tribute to Abourezk has been former Democratic South Dakota U.S. Senator and Representative Tom Daschle. Daschle served as both majority and minority leader in the Senate. He called Abourezk "courageous" and "outspoken" and praised his "advocacy for human rights." Also memorializing him was Republican U.S. Senator and former South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds. Who called Abourezk "a true public servant" and offered prayers for his family.

Abourezk first ran for office in 1968. He was the Democratic nominee for attorney general of South Dakota. But was defeated by a significant margin by Republican State Senator Gordon Mydland.

In 1970, Abourezk was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He won a seat from the now-defunct 2nd District of South Dakota.

The district covered much of the state's west. Longtime Republican incumbent Ellis Yarnal Berry was not running for re-election.

Was quickly elected to the U.S. Senate

Two years later, another long-serving Republican wasn't running for another term. This time it was Karl Mundt in the United States Senate. James Abourezk launched a campaign to succeed him, winning the Democratic nomination in a landslide.

The Republican primary field included his former opponent in Wydland. But former State Senate Minority Leader Robert W. Hirsch ultimately got the party nod. Abourezk handily defeated Hirsch in the general election. Republican former Lieutenant Governor James Abdnor succeeded Abourezk in the U.S. House. Abdnor later became a U.S. Senator and head of the Small Business Administration.

In the Senate, Abourezk helped re-establish the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and became its chairman. An earlier iteration of the committee was abolished in the 1940s.

Abourezk chose not to run for re-election in 1978. Republican U.S. Representative Larry Pressler, a political arch-rival of Abourezk's, would win the seat.

Pressler eventually became the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Was raised on a Native American reservation

James Abourezk was born in Wood in south-central South Dakota. He grew up on the nearby Rosebud Indian Reservation. His father owned a pair of general stores. The younger Abourezk was at one point expelled from high school.

Abourezk would serve in the United States Navy and was stationed for a time in Japan. Afterward, he earned a degree from what is the now-South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in civil engineering. Later leading him to work on the state's Minuteman missile silos. Abourezk eventually graduated from the University of South Dakota School of Law.