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Former Congressman Dale Kildee, champion of education and Native American causes, has died

older gentleman sitting behind a podium
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Undated file photo of Dale Kildee

Longtime Michigan congressman Dale Kildee has died. He was 92.

Kildee’s political career left its mark on education and the needs of Native Americans.

Dale Kildee served nearly a half century in elected office with a little more than a decade at the state capitol in Lansing and 18 terms as a Michigan representative in Congress.

He didn’t start out as a politician. He first was a teacher in Detroit and in his native Flint.

Dan Kildee stands next to Dale Kildee
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
File photo of U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee stands next to his uncle Dale Kildee in an undated file photo.

His nephew Dan Kildee, who eventually succeeded his uncle in Congress, says Dale Kildee shepherded numerous education funding bills, including money for Head Start, Special Education, and higher education through his influential position on the House Education and Workforce committee.

“His career as a teacher is something I think prepared him really well for that role,” Dan Kildee told Michigan Radio, “Because he understood that education takes place between a student and teacher in a classroom. That work informed his focus all those years."

Along with education, the needs of Michigan’s Native American populations were a priority for Dale Kildee.

In 1997, Dale Kildee passed the Michigan Land Claims Settlement Act. The act attempted to end a half century of litigation over a 19th century land deal that shortchanged Indian tribes in Michigan.

In an interview with Michigan Radio, Matthew Fletcher, with the Michigan State University Indigenous Law and Policy Center, said the land claims law fell short of paying the tribes what they were owed, but he says its importance can be measured in other ways.

“I would not want to undermine or denigrate its importance at all, because of what it required tribes to do,” said Fletcher. “In some ways it required the tribes, especially the tribes that were newly recognized, to grow up. To show them and to force them, to interact in what late 20th and now 21st century governance is supposed to look like.”

Kildee retired from Congress as Washington had grown more partisan. His nephew says Dale Kildee preferred a different way.

Dan Kildee says on the night of the 1994 election, when Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, his uncle called the GOP congressman who would soon take over as chairman of the Education committee to congratulate him.

“The reason I mention it isn’t just because it’s a reflection on Dale and the person that he was, but because he was that way. Dale Kildee still had influence over federal education policy,” said Kildee.

At a dinner in his honor a few years after he retired from Congress, Dale Kildee summed up his political philosophy.

“Help those people who are deprived. Help them get what they deserve. Help them to respect themselves. And help them to grow,” Dale Kildee said.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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