Indianz.Com > News > Pokagon Band pays tribute to Rep. Jackie Walorski following fatal crash
Jackie Walorski
Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Indiana) is seen in the center at the Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana in August 2017. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Mota / 434th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Pokagon Band pays tribute to Rep. Jackie Walorski following fatal crash
Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi is mourning the loss of Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Indiana) and two of her staffers who were killed in a car crash in Indiana this week.

In a statement, the tribe credited Walorski with helping advance taxation and economic development issues in Indian Country. The late lawmaker, who died on Wednesday, was a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, one of the most powerful and influential legislative panels in the U.S. Congress.

“Congresswoman Walorski was an advocate and longtime supporter of the Pokagon Band and Indian Country on several of our key priorities,” the tribe said in the statement on Thursday. “She was instrumental in setting up the first meeting and testimony of tribal leaders in 25 years to the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means regarding Tribal Tax Issues.”

Indianz.Com Audio: Examining the Impact of the Tax Code on Native American Tribes

The hearing, which took place in March 2020, was hailed by lawmakers and advocates as “historic.” Walorski introduced Matthew Wesaw, who was serving as chair of the tribe at the time.

“I look forward to a productive dialogue for all of us as we examine ways to ensure tax fairness for tribes around the country,” Walorski said as she welcomed Wesaw to the committee.

During her time in Congress, Walorski co-sponsored the Indian Health Service Advance Appropriations Act, a bill to fulfill the U.S. government’s trust and treaty obligations by funding the Indian Health Service ahead of time. The current version of the measure, which enjoys bipartisan support, received a key hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

Walorski also was a backer of the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. The bill, which remains highly controversial among lawmakers despite widespread support in Indian Country, treats tribes in the same manner as states and local governments when it comes to federal labor law.

Another national bill co-sponsored by Walorski is the Tribal Tax and Investment Reform Act. The bipartisan legislation would address many of the issues — such as tribally-issued bonds and tribal employee pension and benefit plans — discussed at the historic hearing two years ago.

Walorski also supported a measure to place enforcement of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act under the authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a long-time priority of tribes who feel the National Park Service hasn’t done enough to protect ancestral remains and cultural property. The Biden administration has opened the door for the change as the Department of the Interior considers ways to improve NAGPRA.

“Her memory will live on not only through her working relationship with our tribal government, but also through the many lives that she helped through her years public service,” the Pokagan Band said of Walorski in its statement on Thursday.

Walorski had represented Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District since 2013. The district, located in the northern part of the state near the Michigan border, includes part of the Pokagan Reservation.

Walorski and two of her staff members were working in the district when the crash occurred. According to the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office, Walorski, who was 58, lost her life along with Zachery Potts, 27, and Emma Thomson, 28.

“It is with great sadness that we share our deepest condolences to the families of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, and her dedicated staff members, Zachary Potts and Emma Thompson,” the tribe said in the statement.

According to the county sheriff, Potts was driving the vehicle carrying Walorski and Thomson. He collided with another car driven by Edith Schmucker, 56, who also died at the scene, the office said.

Key members of Congress have issued condolences and tributes to Walorski following her passing.

“I am overwhelmed with sadness over the horrific loss of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski and two members of her staff,” Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Massachusetts), the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.

“Jackie brought a passion and love to her public service that I will always remember. She put nervous witnesses at ease with her kindness, and never met a stranger,” Neal continued. “Her bright smile, booming laugh, but most of all, deep commitment to children and families will be forever missed on the Ways and Means Committee.”

“My deepest condolences and prayers are with Congresswoman Walorski’s loved ones and all who had the good fortune of knowing her, as well as with those of her staffers, Emma and Zach,” Neal said. “May they rest in peace.”

“God took a special angel home today,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, said in a statement.

“Congresswoman Jackie Walorski was a happy Hoosier who would light up the room with her joy, passion, brilliance, and love of life. Her Midwestern values of hard work, fairness, and kindness were a model for members,” Brady added. “There was nothing she couldn’t do: She was a tough, fearless advocate for her district, and she was a champion of vulnerable children and families as leader of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support.”

“Cathy and I, along with the entire Ways and Means team of members and staff, extend our deepest condolences to her husband Dean, the Walorski family, as well as to the families of her staffers, Emma Thomson and Zachery Potts,” Brady concluded.

A community memorial vigil is taking place on Thursday evening in Elkhart, Indiana.