Photo: John McCain at the U.S. Capitol. (credit JohnMcCain.com)
Arizona Senator John McCain died Saturday. He was 81. McCain leaves behind a rich and complicated legacy.
This is Trahant Reports.
McCain served with two of Arizona’s most well-known legislators, Sen. Barry Goldwater and Rep. Morris Udall. All three ran for president in their day.
Udall, a Democrat, was a close friend of McCain. He was eager to keep him informed about federal Indian policy and to work with him across the aisle. He often would ask McCain, then in the House of Representatives, to attend press conferences or meetings with tribes. The result was the two Arizonans were often allies on tribal issues and developed a personal relationship.
McCain and Udall were authors of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Back then tribal casinos and bingos were about a $100 million enterprise. Today it collects billions. Tens of billions. Of course not every tribe, nor even every tribal member, has benefited from the success of gaming. But without question the industry has changed the face of Indian Country.
McCain was always close with Native American veterans groups. He said: “From the Revolution through Desert Storm, Native Americans have served, suffered and died for the cause of American freedom … Native American Veterans bow to no one in depth of his patriotism and love of country.”
A statement by the National Congress of American Indians called the senator a “tireless champion.” McCain dedicated many years to Indian Country. Serving as longtime member and former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, he met frequently with tribal leaders on the Hill, in their community, and at our gatherings. In his last speech at NCAI Senator McCain said, “We must listen more to you, and get out of the way of tribal authority.”
Of course McCain was not perfect. He called himself “an imperfect servant.” And many objected to his part in transferring Apache sacred land to a mining company. A YouTube video of a polite controntation in Window Rock when viral when the senator asked a young man to leave.
McCain also advocated for tribal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act. He said: “Domestic violence is a national problem and not one that is unique to Indian Country. Yet, due to the unique status of Indian tribes, there are obstacles faced by Indian tribal police, federal investigators, tribal and federal prosecutors and courts that impede their ability to respond to domestic violence in Indian Country. This bill is intended to remove these obstacles at levels and to enhance the ability of each agency to respond to acts of domestic violence.”
Sovereignty is the answer, again and again. In his final speech at the National Congress of American Indians, McCain found his older theme. He said: ”We must listen more to you, and get out of the way of tribal authority.”
John McCain, the maverick.
I am Mark Trahant.
For more information look at Indian Country Today and Mark Trahant’s analysis of the McCain legacy.