Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye on McCain



JOSE CARDENAS: WE'LL GO BACK MORE FROM OUR WASHINGTON BUREAU BUT FIRST THE LATE SENATOR McCAIN WAS KNOWN FOR WORK ON LEGISLATION BENEFITTING NATIVE AMERICANS. HOWEVER, IT'S NOT ALWAYS A SMOOTH ROAD WITH THE SENATOR HAVING A ROCKY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE NAVAJO NATION. WE SPOKE WITH NAVAJO ANTION PRESIDENT RUSSELL BEGAYE ABOUT HIS VIEWS ON THE SENATOR. PRESIDENT BEGAYE, THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON "ARIZONA HORIZON". YOU HAD SOME VERY KIND, GRACIOUS THINGS TO SAY ABOUT THE LATE SENATOR McCAIN, BUT THERE WAS ONE STATEMENT THAT CAPTURED THE WHOLE RELATIONSHIP WHERE YOU SAID IT WAS A WARM RELATIONSHIP WITH SOME ICY MOMENTS.

RUSSELL BEGAYE: ABSOLUTELY. YOU KNOW, THE WARM MOMENTS WAS THE TIME WHEN HE SAID LET ME SHOW YOU SOMETHING, HE SAID THIS IS A PLACE WHERE VERY FEW PEOPLE GET A CHANCE TO STAND, SO WE NAVIGATED THROUGH THE CAPITOL. GUY THE WAS QUICK, OLD IN AGE, BUT I TELL YOU HE WAS ZIPPING AROUND, SPECTATORS THAT WERE IN LINE TO VIEW DIFFERENT THINGS.

JOSE CARDENAS: GIVING YOU A TOUR THROUGH WASHINGTON?

RUSSELL BEGAYE: GIVING ME A TOUR TO GO TO A SPECIFIC LOCATION IN THE CAPITOL. HE SAID THIS IS MY FAVORITE STATUE RIGHT HERE,AND WE WERE LOOKING AT IT- TOOK OFF. IN THIS ONE AREA, THERE WERE AT LEAST THREE OR FOUR SECURE AREAS, AND HE SAID DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT. AND I TELL YOU WHAT. NO ONE STOPPED US, NO ONE ASKED A QUESTION, THESE GUYS ARE HEAVILY ARMED PEOPLE THERE SITTING, AND WE JUST ZIPPED RIGHT THROUGH THERE FROM ONE DOOR TO ANOTHER AND ANOTHER AND STOOD AT ONE POINT WAY UP THE CAPITOL OVERSEEING THE ENTIRE MALL, YOU SEE ALL OF THE MUSEUM, YOU SEE THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT, ALL THE WAY DOWN TO LINCOLN, YOU SEE THE WHITE HOUSE WAY OVER THERE ON TOP OF THAT, AND JUST TO STAND THERE AND GIVE THAT PRIVILEGE BY THE SENATOR WAS SPECIAL TO ME ABOUT THE FACT THAT HE TOOK ME THERE TO SAY, THIS IS MY FAVORITE SPOT IN THE WHOLE WASHINGTON, D.C., AREA, AND IT WAS PHENOMENAL VIEW TO STAND THERE AND TAKE IT IN. THOSE WERE THE WARM MOMENTS. WHEN HE TOOK ME INTO THE FLOOR OF THE SENATE. SO HE'S TAKE ME DOWN AND WALKING ME THROUGH THE FLOOR OF THE SENATE, AND HE SAID, STAND HERE AND LOOK ALL THE WAY ACROSS, AND THIS IS WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE HOUSE ON THE OTHER SIDE, AND HE SAID IT WAS DESIGNED THAT WAY. HE'S TELLING ME ALL OF THESE UNIQUE THINGS, BUT ICY MOMENTS –

JOSE CARDENAS: BEFORE WE GET TO THAT, ANOTHER AREA OF WARMING AND THE AFFECTION BETWEEN THE NAVAJO NATION AND THE SENATOR WAS THE FACT THAT HE WAS A VETERAN, AND NAVAJO VETERANS RESPECTED THAT?

RUSSELL BEGAYE: ABSOLUTELY. ESPECIALLY HIM COMING TO OUR CODETALKER DAY, AND I GAVE HIM PROPOSAL ALSO, AND HE SAID LET'S WORK ON PUTTING TOGETHER A MUSEUM FOR THE CODETALKERS, AND GAVE HIM THE DESIGN, THE PROPOSAL, THE BREAKDOWN OF THAT, AND I TOLD HIM REALLY IT WOULD BE GREAT FOR YOU TO HELP US, MAKE THIS HAPPEN, BECAUSE CODETALKERS ARE THE ONES THAT REALLY WERE IN THE PACIFIC USING THE NAVAJO LANGUAGE, VERY BRAVE INDIVIDUALS THAT WERE RIGHT THERE IN THE FRONT LINE, I ASKED HIM, WERE YOU ON THE FRONT LINE? YEAH, BUT MOST OF THE TIME IN FRONT OF THE FRONT LINE BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE MESSAGES WERE SENT AND THAT'S WHERE ARTILLERY WAS SENT TO. SO BEING THERE, HONORING OUR CODETALKERS WAS REALLY, REALLY SPECIAL DAY FOR US WHEN HE CAME, AND ALSO WE HAVE OVER 20,000 VETERANS AND HIM BEING THE VETERAN AND EXPERIENCED AS A PRISONER OF WAR, PEOPLE GRAVITATE TO THAT AND HAVE HIGH RESPECT FOR HIM, AND SO MANY, MANY OF OUR PEOPLE SERVE IN THE ARMED FORCES, ALL FIVE ARMED FORCES AND THEY HAVE HIGH RESPECT FOR ANY PERSON THAT HAS REALLY SACRIFICED AND GIVEN THEIR HEART AND PASSION TO DEFEND THIS NATION, TO DEFEND FREEDOM AS WE ENJOYED. SO THERE WAS A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE SENATOR AND OUR WARRIORS.

JOSE CARDENAS: AND THEN THOSE ICY MOMENTS, WOULD HAVE COME IN PART BECAUSE OF ROLE AS SENIOR MEMBER OF THE SENATE INDIAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE. ONE OF THE TOUCHY ISSUES IS THE NAVAJO HOPI RELOCATION?

RUSSELL BEGAYE: ABSOLUTELY. THIS IS WHERE OVER 20,000 NAVAJOS WERE LITERALLY TAKEN OFF OF THEIR ABORIGINAL ANCESTRAL LAND. BEING TOLD THAT YOU NO LONGER OWN THESE LAND EVEN THOUGH THIS IS WHERE YOUR ANCESTORS LIVE. THIS IS WHERE THEY MAKE THEIR LIVELIHOOD, THIS IS WHERE THEY HERD THEIR SHEEP AND THIS IS WHERE THEY USED TO WATER AND WALK THE GRASSLAND, SOME OF THEM WERE LITERALLY AT GUNPOINT FORCED OFF THEIR LAND.

JOSE CARDENAS: AND YOU FELT THE SENATOR WAS ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THIS ISSUE?

RUSSELL BEGAYE: I FELT THAT THE SENATOR, WELL, THE WHOLE, THE ENTIRE OBJECTIVE WAS TO EXTRACT COAL, MINERAL OFF OF NAVAJO AND HOPI LAND. THAT WAS THE ENTIRE INCENTIVE FOR THAT. NOW WHERE THE SENATOR AND I CAME HEAD-TO-HEAD WAS, HE SAID TO ME, HE SAID PRESIDENT, WE NEED TO STOP THIS SOMEWHERE, AND WE NEED TO DO IT SOON, AND HE SAID HOW ABOUT TWO YEARS? AND SO WE'RE SITTING CLOSE BY, AND YOU KNOW, WE'RE FRIENDS, AT THE SAME TIME, WE'RE BOTH ADVOCATING FOR OUR PEOPLE, FOR HIM, HE WOULD SAY TO ME, WELL, THE TAXPAYER THAT I -- THEY SPEAK FOR, IT THEY NEED TO STOP, THEY'RE SAYING THAT WE NEED TO END THIS THING, AND I'M SAYING WHEN MY PEOPLE WERE FORCED OFF THE LAND, OFF THEIR ABORIGINAL LAND, THEY WERE GIVEN PROMISES, MADE PROMISES FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. HOUSING, HEALTH AND THOSE TYPES OF THINGS AND ROADS. I SAID WE HAVE GONE THROUGH THE ENTIRE AREA AND MANY OF THE PROMISES HAVE NOT BEEN MADE YET.

JOSE CARDENAS: AND LET ME ASK YOU THIS, WE'RE GOING TO RUN OUT OF TIME. I TAKE IT ON THAT ISSUE NEVER CLOSURE BETWEEN YOU AND THE SENATOR?

RUSSELL BEGAYE: THAT'S RIGHT. WE WERE COMING TO A POINT. WE WERE COMING, I BELIEVE, VERY CLOSE --

JOSE CARDENAS: BUT YOU HAD NOT --

RUSSELL BEGAYE: WE DID NOT MAKE THAT. SO MANY MEETINGS OVER THIS SUBJECT, AND WE WERE FAR APART BUT WE WERE GETTING CLOSE.

JOSE CARDENAS: WHEN YOU SAID IN YOUR REMARKS AFTER HE PASSED THAT HE WILL BE MISSED AND THAT HIS DEPARTURE WILL AFFECT THE TRIBES, WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT?

RUSSELL BEGAYE: WHAT I MEAN IS BECAUSE HE WAS A SENIOR SENATOR, AND HE HAD A LOT OF POWER AS THE SENATOR. HE HAD VOTES. HE COULD MOVE THINGS THAT OTHER SENATORS COULD NOT, AND I FELT THAT WITH HIS LEADERSHIP AND IN THE SENATE, AND ALSO EVEN ALL THE WAY TO THE WHITE HOUSE, IS THAT HE WOULD BE ONE THAT COULD HELP US SETTLE OUR WATER RIGHTS, SETTLE OUR -- FINISH OUT THE RESETTLEMENT PROGRAM. THAT HE WOULD BE ONE TO DEAL WITH THE MINERAL RIGHTS WE WERE FIGHTING FOR AND ALL THE OTHER THING WE WERE AFTER, AND ALSO THE CODETALKER MUSEUM. I FELT WITH HIS LEADERSHIP IN THE SENATE, HIS SENIORITY AND INFLUENCE THAT HE WILL BE THE ONE SENATOR HERE FROM ARIZONA, THE GREAT STATE OF ARIZONA, THAT HE WOULD BE THE ONE WITH THESE THINGS.

JOSE CARDENAS: DEPARTURE IS A LOSS FOR THE TRIBES AS WELL AS THE REST OF ARIZONA. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

RUSSELL BEGAYE: ABSOLUTELY. THANK YOU.

JOSE CARDENAS: AFTER EXPERIENCING MISTREATMENT AND BRUTALITY AT THE HANDS OF THE NORTH VIETNAMESE, A VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT WHICH SEEMED LIKE THE LAST PLACE FOR SENATOR McCAIN TO VISIT, A D.C. RESTAURANT, THE LATE SENATOR CONNECTED FOOD WITH PART OF HIS MILITARY EXPERIENCE.

Senator McCain is known for his work that helped American Indian communities, although he sometimes had a rocky relationship with the Navajo Nation. We talk with Navajo president Russell Begaye about his views on McCain.

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Navajo president Russell Begaye

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