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Ernie L Stevens Sr., a distinguished member of the Oneida Nation and dedicated advocate for Indian Country, died Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Anna John Resident Centered Care Community facility in Oneida, Wisconsin. He was 94.

His extensive career was marked by numerous leadership roles, reflecting his unwavering dedication to the advocacy of sovereignty, self-determination, self-governance, and Native rights. He held a bachelor’s degree in Business Economics and a Community Fellows Program certification from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His influence was felt across Indian Country as he served in various roles, including as the executive director of the Los Angeles Indian Center, the Institute for Community Anti-Poverty Corporation, the Inter-Tribal Council of California, the Indian Action Project in Arizona, and the American Indian Policy Review Commission. Stevens was the First Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians and the first Staff Director to the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. His work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs was instrumental in transitioning Indian Policy from an era of termination to tribal self-determination.

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A U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran of the Korean War, Stevens was honored with the Korean Unit citation and the Korean Service medal with three battle stars. His contributions were recognized with the Leon Grant Spirit of the Community Award by the Phoenix Indian Center in 2017, and he was inducted into the National Native American Hall of Fame in 2021.

James Parker Shield, Founder and CEO of the National Native American Hall of Fame, expressed his admiration, saying, “Ernie Stevens, Sr. was my personal hero, and inspiration. He took an interest in me and told people I had potential when I was a young 20-year- old with no direction, and he gave me that direction and encouragement. He was that kind of person, that kind of leader. A true giant in Indian Country has walked on.”

Richard Trudell, Founder & Director of American Indian Resources Institute, said in a press release, “The passing of Ernie Stevens, Sr., a proud and accomplished member of the Oneida Nation located in the State of Wisconsin, is a great loss for Indian Country. Ernie was a modern-day warrior who made a difference for Tribal Governments in the modern era. In the 1970s, he played a major role in changing how Indian affairs were managed within the Department of the Interior, and he played a key role in laying the groundwork for federal-Indian policy initiatives that were recommended by the American Indian Policy Review Commission, a commission established by the United States Senate. He loved Indian Country, and he dedicated his life to making a difference for Indian people. It was an honor and privilege to know Ernie and to be his friend.”

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