Mark Trahant and Cronkite News
WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain died Saturday. He was 81.
On Friday the family announced that he would no longer be treated for
glioblastoma and that the senator had has beaten the odds against the very aggressive form of cancer.
The family’s announced Friday that while McCain “has surpassed expectations for his survival…. the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict.”
McCain's legacy in Indian affairs will include his many years as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The Senator's page said: "The federal government has a trust obligation to Native Americans that must be honored. Senator McCain is the longest current serving member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and has fought tirelessly to support the principals of tribal sovereignty and Indian self-governance and self-determination."
McCain is also remembered for one of his last official acts, when he cast a critical early-morning vote in July 2017 that salvaged Obamacare. That vote also was important to the Indian Health Service because of the growth of Medicaid found in the law.
McCain remained in Washington through the fall, and was honored in October with the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal in Philadelphia.
At that event, McCain made an emotional appeal for the U.S. to rediscover its values and to reject the “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems” – an apparent reference to President Donald Trump, with whom he often sparred.
The Naval Academy honor was accepted on McCain’s behalf by former Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime Senate friend, who said the Arizona senator and Navy veteran had lived a “life of honor, decency, duty and devotion to his country like none other in modern American history.”
“Like my Beau, John has never bent, never bowed and never, ever yielded,” Biden said. “And he has never given up hope.”
McCain served with two of Arizona's most well-known legislators, Sen. Barry Goldwater and Rep. Morris Udall.
Udall, a Democrat, was a close friend of McCain and was eager to keep him informed about federal Indian policy and work with 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 often were allies on tribal issues and developed a personal relationship.
McCain and Udall were authors of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. In July 1988, McCain quoted Udall on the Senate floor when state interests tried to rewrite the legislation in their favor. "I must oppose legislation damaging to Indian self-government and Indian rights. It may be that an intransigent non-Indian gaming industry has the economic power and political muscle to shove State rule over Indian governments down the throat of the tribes or to simply destroy the right by a federal ban. But it will be done without my consent and without my support."
When Udall developed Parkinson's disease and was hospitalized, McCain took time out of his schedule to visit him weekly.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, said Saturday night that it was to call him a dear friend.
“John said about my uncle Mo Udall: ‘We disagree in politics, but not in life.’ And that was how John lived – in service to his nation and his ideals, always rising above the divisiveness and distrust that has consumed so much of our politics.
“The nation—and the world—will miss John’s fierce independence and his unwavering dedication to doing what is right — no matter the cost," Udall said. "Now more than ever, during these uncertain times, let us all strive to follow in Senator McCain’s footsteps and to rise to his heroic example.”
Like McCain, Barry Goldwater had been the Republican nominee for president. When Goldwater died, McCain said, "The best thing that can ever be said of anyone is that they served a cause greater than their self-interest. All the well-earned testimonials and accolades to Barry Goldwater that have filled the nation's newspapers and air waves since his death can be summed up in that one tribute: He served a cause greater than his self-interest.”
McCain was quick to align himself with Native American veterans. At a 1992 event for the Navajo Code Talkers, McCain said, "From the Revolution through Desert Storm, Native Americans have served, suffered and died for the cause of American freedom. Today we pay honor to a group of men -- only schoolboys at the time -- whose courage, resourcefulness, and tenacity saved the lives of countless men and women and helped to speed the realization of peace during World War II. During that war military communications between allied forces were constantly intercepted by the enemy with tragic consequences for the success of allied missions and forces. The legendary Navajo Code Talkers used their language to devise the only allied code that the enemy was never able to decipher. Sadly, though we may acknowledge their military prowess and their contributions to our victories, we have not always acknowledged our debts to the Navajo Code Talkers and other Native American veterans. When war has subsided, the Indian's prominent place in the battlefield has been replaced with second class citizenship at home. It is my hope that we will not only acknowledge the service of Native American veterans, but we also will honor our debts to them in peacetime. Native American Veterans bow to no one in the depth of his patriotism and in his love of country."
At the White House last year McCain was critical of President Donald J. Trump for being disrespectful. "Politicizing these genuine American heroes is an insult to their sacrifice," McCain tweeted.
McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five years. He was tortured because his father was an Admiral. "What they wanted," McCain wrote, "was to send me home at the same time that my father took over as commander in the Pacific. This would have made them look very humane in releasing the injured son of a top U. S. officer. It would also have given them a great lever against my fellow prisoners, because the North Vietnamese were always putting this 'class' business on us. They could have said to the others "Look, you poor devils, the son of the man who is running the war has gone home and left you here. No one cares about you ordinary fellows." I was determined at all times to prevent any exploitation of my father and my family.
Across social media many Native Americans were expressing admiration for the late senator. "Rest easy Senator John McCain, I admire your commitment to improving Indian Country and for your service to our country," wrote Rory Wheeler, Seneca, on Twitter.
Heather Knife Chief tweeted that McCain was the only senator that met with "the Pawnee Entourage in DC when we finally won the fight to remove the decapitated heads of our U. S. Army Pawnee scouts from the shelves of the Smithsonian and finally bring them home."
Speaker LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tse’Daa’Kaan, Upper Fruitland) offered his condolences to the McCain's family.
Speaker Bates recalled Senator McCain as a strong, humble, and hard working person who was always willing to discuss issues and work toward resolving problems for all tribes. Senator McCain was also a great admirer and supporter of the Navajo Code Talkers. In 2015, Senator McCain visited the capital of the Navajo Nation on Navajo Code Talker Day, and spoke in honor and recognition of the Navajo Code Talkers and their families.
“We admire his strength and resilience in serving our country until his final days. The Navajo Nation Council will continue to remember the McCain family in our thoughts and prayers and we will always be grateful for Senator McCain’s honorable service to the Navajo people and our country,” stated Speaker Bates.
A statement by the National Congress of American Indians said McCain called the senator a "tireless champion." The Senator 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.” As we close out the day, we extend our sincere condolences with the family of Senator John McCain.
McCain's daughter, Meghan, in a statement said, "the dream has ended; this is the morning."
(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)