Dead at 94; former President George H.W. Bush called for 'kinder, gentler nation
ICT editorial team
Indian Country Today
George Herbert Walker Bush died Friday. He was 94. Bush was the 41st president of the United States and a World War II veteran.
A statement late Friday from his son, former President George W. Bush, the elder Bush “was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.”
“The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”
Video: George H.W. Bush Receives Medal of Freedom
Former President Barack Obama wrote on Twitter that “America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush. While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Our thoughts are with the entire Bush family tonight – and all who were inspired by George and Barbara’s example.”
When Bush accepted the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, he spoke of building a “kinder, gentler nation.”
“I say it without boast or bravado, I’ve fought for my country, I’ve served, I’ve built,” Bush said. “And I will go from the hills to the hollows, from the cities to the suburbs to the loneliest town on the quietest street to take our message of hope and growth for every American to every American.”
A 2016 profile in Indian Country Today by Alysa Landry said “although he served only one term, George Herbert Walker Bush took some big steps to help promote Native American interests while in the White House.”
Bush signed the bill establishing the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, for the “collection, preservation and exhibition of American Indian languages, literature, history, art, anthropology and culture,” Bush said. “From this point, our Nation will go forward with a new and richer understanding of the heritage, culture and values of the people of the Americans of Indian ancestry.”
The same legislation also required the return of human remains and sacred items and an improved consultation process.
President Donald J. Trump, who often attacked his fellow Republican, issued a statement, that said: "Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service—to be, in his words, 'a thousand points of light' illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world."
The former president was born in Massachusetts in 1924. He was a Navy pilot in World War II, a graduate of Yale University. He public service career was long: He represented Texas in Congress, served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, ambassador to the United Nations, and was chairman of the Republican National Committee. During his time in office Bush focused much of his time on foreign affairs. He was president when Eastern European nations renounced communism, the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Soviet Union disintegrated. The Cold War ended, but other wars began. In 1991, Bush sent U.S. troops to Kuwait in the military operation Desert Storm.
But, as Landry wrote, Bush “also presided over a country celebrating the quincentennial anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landfall in America, was largely mum when it came to the topic of American Indians. He failed for two years to announce his administration’s formal Indian policies. In April 1991, a delegation of 17 Native leaders, led by Onondaga faithkeeper Oren Lyons, journeyed to Washington to ask Bush for a policy statement. Two months later, Bush finally complied, issuing a statement that simply reaffirmed the same policies of self-determination he and Reagan articulated eight years earlier.”
In December 1991, Bush signed a public law designating the following 12 months as the “Year of the American Indian.” The designation came as America prepared to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage. In a March 1992 proclamation, Bush reflected on the half millennium since the arrival of Europeans explorers.
“The contributions that Native Americans have made to our Nation’s history and culture are as numerous and varied as the tribes themselves,” he said. “This year gives us the opportunity to recognize the special place that Native Americans hold in our society, to affirm the right of Indian tribes to exist as sovereign entities, and to seek greater mutual understanding and trust.”
“This government-to-government relationship is the result of sovereign and independent tribal governments being incorporated into the fabric of our nation, of Indian tribes becoming what our courts have come to refer to as quasi-sovereign domestic dependent nations,” Bush said. “Over the years the relationship has flourished, grown, and evolved into a vibrant partnership in which over 500 tribal governments stand shoulder to shoulder with the other governmental units that form our Republic.”
In his statement, Bush also firmly relegated “to the history books” the concepts of forced Indian termination and excessive dependency on the federal government.
“Today we move forward toward a permanent relationship of understanding and trust,” he said. “A relationship in which the tribes of the nation sit in positions of dependent sovereignty along with the other governments that compose the family that is America.”