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Hayworth speaks out on Indian country

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Editor's note: U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Republican, who represents Arizona's 5th district, is one of the most powerful and knowledgeable elected officials in the nation's capitol in relation to Indian affairs. Hayworth was a founder of the Congressional Native American caucus and is currently a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Indian affairs. He represented a district which included the nation's largest reservation, Navajo, for eight years, before redistricting two years ago. Indian Country Today correspondent Mark Shaffer caught up with Hayworth for breakfast on June 21 before he was scheduled to address an economic seminar in Flagstaff, Ariz. This is part four of a four-part series.

ICT: How familiar are you with the numbers of Native Americans there are in the U.S. military? Are their numbers way out of line proportionally with their numbers in the overall society?

Hayworth: There are many and I believe it's a source of pride. I am very honored to point out to my non-Native constituents that Native Americans lead the way when it comes to military service. If the rate of volunteerism that we see in the armed forces in Indian country was replicated in every community across the United States we'd be trying to figure out ways to send folks home. It's truly remarkable and should be a source of pride. For example, you may recall that the Navajo Nation drafted a resolution for the U.S. to enter World War II on the side of the Allies long before Pearl Harbor was attacked, I believe in 1940. Despite the remote status and the many miles from the seat of government, Native Americans have always stood up for their nations and for their fellow Americans and that's a source of pride. Just look at Lori Piestewa. Her primary mission was not one of being a warrior. But in the worst case scenario, she brought the vehicle around in the line of fire and protected her sergeant. She didn't hesitate. It is a story of valor that ranks with the best, knowing they will pay the ultimate price but serving their country and comrades before worrying about themselves.

ICT: Did you agree with the name change of Squaw Peak and Squaw Peak Freeway to Piestewa Peak?

Hayworth: Here's the problem. There was another gesture made many years ago when I was a boy that was meant to be a show of reverence and affection that kind of backfired. It was interesting because the fellow who did this normally had a pretty good political ear, Lyndon Johnson, and I'm talking here about his efforts unilaterally to rename Cape Canaveral Cape Kennedy in the wake of JFK's assassination. Now, we all agree that the assassination of President Kennedy was horrible and he has been memorialized many ways. But when President Johnson decided he would use his powers of persuasion to make that change without talking to the people of Florida it led to widespread resentment. It was a blot on JFK's memory that need not have happened. And they ended up splitting the name to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. I offer that as a lesson in what could have been done. Remember, there was a movement to name the (Squaw) peak after former Sen. Barry Goldwater. But because there are rules saying that we wait five years the folks who favored it - and, by the way, Barry Goldwater was a great friend to Native Americans - waited. If it were a good idea now it would certainly be a good idea in five years. In the meantime, many other memorials to Lori Piestewa could exist like the names of tribal schools. Geographical sites perhaps closer to her home also could have been considered for a name change. Her story and her legend will only gain prominence. The tragedy of the way that Gov. (Janet) Napolitano chose to do this perhaps shows that it's best not to govern according to opinion columns in the press. What this did was a disservice to the memory of Lori Piestewa because it put an unneeded blot on her memory. Now, people will look back and say 'oh yeah that was Gov. Napolitano strong arming people.' That's what I object to. Not the eventual naming. I think it was a good idea but it would still be a good idea in five years. We could have fast tracked through Congress any number of memorials to Lori that would only augment her legend and legacy culminating in the change of name five years later to a consensus and crescendo rather than dissolving in finger pointing and resentment.

ICT: Should members of other Indian tribes around the country like Hopi and Comanche, who used their special language skills in war, be awarded presidential medals like the Navajo Code Talkers were?

Hayworth: You bet. You talk about tribal heritage and keeping customs alive. Having the Museum of the Native American right there on the (Washington) mall, the contributions of other tribes in the war effort can be duly noted. I'd certainly be willing to work with my colleagues to see those who deserve it to be richly recognized.

ICT: What does it mean to the credibility of the U.S. should no weapons of mass destruction be found in Iraq? How much longer can the government ask the world public to wait for a definitive answer?

Hayworth: Let's put in perspective the whole question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Let's remember that it took the feds five years to find the alleged Olympic bomber in an area that covered just 35 square miles of land in western North Carolina. It seems that some wanted to see in five weeks in the wake of a war in a nation the size of California or all of Germany, take your pick, evidence of these weapons. The fact is the U.N., the British, the Germans and the Clinton Administration all said there were weapons and, most importantly, the capability to quickly develop weapons of mass destruction. I would commend to your readers a column written by a former Clinton Administration official, Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution who wrote "The Threatening Storm." He wrote that what might have happened is that Saddam, in the wake of Gulf War I, was building several pharmaceutical plants that had dual use. They could have fairly quickly changed to the kind of plant which could build chemical weapons in fairly short order. Which is even why back in the first Gulf War when we heard the talk Saddam said, 'no, no, no it's not a chemical plant it's a baby food factory.' Maybe it was designed for that but in retooling it was to be switched over for chemical warfare. Another former Clinton Administration official, James Woolsey, the former CIA director, pointed out if you took the U.N.'s findings about the number of liters of anthrax, that if you had it weaponized in powder form it would be approximately 800 pounds which could fit into just a few large suitcases and hidden in a variety of places. Or, ominously taken out of the country during the long debate we had over the notion of military action. The bottom line is as we speak, American troops have found cryptographs of more intelligence information and, what appears to be a plan for nuclear armaments. This may be just the tip of the iceberg and as Mr. Pollack points out in his book he believes those weapons will be found and I do too. It's difficult to search in peacetime, as the hunt for the Olympic bomber proved, and how much more difficult the search is in a time of war in a very unsettled time, which we see currently in Iraq.

ICT: Since American Indians have a lot of experience in dealing with issues of occupied territories, we have this question about the Middle East. Does President Bush need to pressure Israel more on the issue of settlements to establish any chance for peace in the Middle East?

Hayworth: I believe that our history and treatment of Native Americans sadly offers many more tears than triumphs. I don't believe that what we saw unfold in the United States is something that any American would be particularly proud of. However, what I do sense in the Native American community is a pride in this nation and a willingness to be persistent in the accomplishment of goals and I believe in any peacemaking endeavor persistence is the key. And that is the greatest lesson for anyone in any circumstance can draw from the experience of the American Indian. At times, cheerful, at times outspoken and always dogged persistence to achieve a goal. The Israeli government has asked some of the settlers to move back. Indeed, our president embraced the mandate of 1947, which included land for a Palestinian state. That was the initial offer. I do lament the fact it seems that there are those bent on making war and the sad thing I see is after Israel's attack and response, fingers point at Israel. But the best lesson we could draw is the experience of the American Indian. A warrior knows that to be at peace there must be dogged persistence.