The Former Chairman of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Senator John McCain of Arizona Passes On

Published on Aug 26, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. | U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona passed away, Saturday August 25, 2018, at the age of 81, with his family by his side at his ranch in Arizona.  A Vietnam combat veteran and POW, McCain served in the U.S. Senate and was the GOP Presidential Candidate in 2008. McCain was a prominent member of the Senate serving on a number of committees including the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.  He passed after his yearlong battle with brain cancer.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Jefferson Keel released a statement yesterday following the loss of a friend and warrior for the rights of all people, including Indigenous peoples and tribal nations:

“The National Congress of American Indians gives honor to the life of Senator John McCain and celebrates the time we had with him as a tireless champion for Indian Country and tribal sovereignty. The Senator dedicated many years to Indian Country,” said Keel. “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 outstanding commitment to Indian affairs was demonstrated by his long service on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, serving twice as the Chairman from 1995-1997 and again from 2005-2007. Throughout his tenure, McCain worked closely with NCAI and tribes as he advocated for tribal sovereignty and self-governance. His latest bill, the Native American Education Opportunity Act, was introduced in March 2016, and since then, he has worked with NCAI and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) to refine and strengthen the bill which will expand authority for tribes that run and operate Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools to exercise self-determination in Indian education. Of the bill, Senator McCain said in a statement: “It is unconscionable to leave Native American students stranded in failing schools when we can create the option of expanding educational opportunities on Indian reservations now.”

In the year 2000, NCAI honored him at the NCAI Leadership Awards for his service to Indian Country. In 1993, despite his public thoughts on gaming he stood with tribal nations to support self-determination, he sponsored the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act with Senator Inouye. That same year, he co-sponsored and introduced the Tribal Self-Governance Act. McCain has a long list of legislation extending Indian Country’s agenda including: (1) expanding the AMBER Alert warning system to include reservations with the Ashlynne Mike Amber Alert in Indian Country Act; (2) the Water Settlement Act of 2004 completing 10 water settlements for tribes in Arizona; and (3) to finalize the construction of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Indians among others.

McCain held strong personal convictions and voted where he believed would be the best for the country, sometimes outside of party lines, not an easy undertaking. In standing for what he believed in he gained respect of many even if they didn’t always agree with his political choices. The bipartisan reaction to his passing is a reflection of the amazing respect he was able to achieve without giving up on his core values.

House Speaker Paul Ryan issued the following statement:

“This is a sad day for the United States. Our country has lost a decorated war hero and statesman. John McCain was a giant of our time—not just for the things he achieved, but for who he was and what he fought for all his life. John put principle before politics. He put country before self. He was one of the most courageous men of the century. He will always be listed among freedom’s most gallant and faithful servants. Our hearts are with his wife, Cindy, his children, and his grandchildren. This Congress, this country mourn with them.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden said in his statement, “John McCain’s life is proof that some truths are timeless. Character. Courage. Integrity. Honor. A life lived embodying those truths casts a long, long shadow. John McCain will cast a long shadow. His impact on America hasn’t ended. Not even close. It will go on for many years to come.” Biden continues by saying, “John was many things – a proud graduate of the Naval Academy, a Senate colleague, a political opponent. But, to me, more than anything, John was a friend. America will miss John McCain. The world will miss John McCain. And I will miss him dearly.”

In honor of his service, flags have been ordered to be lowered around the country. Already reported are flags to be lowered in Washington, D.C., Arizona, New York, and Maryland.


About the National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information, visit

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