ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.-Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly met with Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain during a visit with tribal leaders on Memorial Day.
"It's important that candidates keep us in perspective," said Vice President Shelly. "We're making great strides in many areas but we also need candidates to know our initiatives." Vice President outlined water rights, energy, healthcare, and creating viable economic development opportunities.
Vice President Shelly was one of several tribal leaders in New Mexico who were invited to meet with McCain. During his introduction, Vice President Shelly gave an overview of other issues deemed important to the Navajo Nation, including rehabilitating infrastructure for the Bennett Freeze residents, significantly increasing funding for jail and court facilities, and supporting tax incentives for renewable energy initiatives.
In a talk to tribal leaders about sovereignty, Senator McCain told tribal leaders he would appoint a Native American in the White House.
"I will keep this a priority because a great nation has to honor its treaties. We entered into solemn treaties. I want to assure you that there will be someone in the White House who will have my constant attention."
Education was also among the many issues discussed at the meeting.
Native American education "has been at a national disgrace for 200 years...it is an abrogation of our responsibilities in our solemn treaty obligations," Senator McCain said. "One of the problems is the quality of education. Even if we fund the schools, in which we have never done an adequate job, we have got to attract good teachers. We have got to attract quality type of administrators.
To better education, Senator McCain suggested tribal governments buy into the federal government's Self-Governance initiative, which was created by legislation authored by Senator McCain in 2004 while he served as a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Healthcare issues were discussed briefly in the meeting, such as his co-sponsorship of the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
In his discussion about substance abuse, he said, "I have been to Window Rock many times and I would come over here to New Mexico. [A]bout 10 years ago now, I was so appalled at the stories about Gallup. I came over and spent a Saturday night in Gallup. Frankly, that motivated me a great deal on the whole issue of alcohol abuse and many of the problems associated with it."
Among the important healthcare issues, citizenship was also discussed with tribal leaders. "We go back and forth on this issue. Some tribes want stricter requirements on who is eligible for tribal membership and other want dramatically looser ones. This fight goes on back and forth in the Congress and within the National Congress of American Indians," said Senator McCain. "It would help if leadership of Indian Country all over American came up with one set position and I think that would be adopted.
Before Senator McCain left the meeting, he urged tribal leaders to "have a vigorous voter and registration program."
"Everybody should be voting, that's the first priority. [Whether] you vote for me or not, get everybody registered to vote, not only for the presidential race, but also the congressional races. There are all sorts of races that affect your futures."
McCain's visit with tribal leaders in New Mexico was just one scheduled stop among candidates in their push to better appeal to Native Americans. On May 28, Senator Hillary Clinton was in Pine Ridge, S.D., as she outlined her plans for Native Americans.