With thousands of mourners in attendance, Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (CA-45) and California Governor Jerry Brown were among the elected officials and close friends who delivered eulogies today at the funeral of Richard Milanovich, the nationally respected Chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, who died last week.
Over the years, Congresswoman Bono Mack said Milanovich had become one of her best friends and a close mentor. The following is an excerpt from her remarks:
"We come together today to mourn but also to honor the life of a great leader and dear friend. I know how proud his family is of all he accomplished, and I want everyone to know that I, too, am so proud to call Richard my friend. Whenever I was fortunate enough to spend time with Richard in our nation's capital -- whether at the White House, visiting with other Members of Congress, or just in a meeting in my office -- being in Richard's company filled me with great pride and confidence that our community was being so ably represented.
"While today's ceremony is bittersweet, as we each deal with this tremendous loss in our own ways, I am reminded of something a great poet once said: "Don't cry because it's over smile because it happened.'
"Richard brought his personal ethic -- hard work and self reliance -- to every single thing he tackled. And his record of accomplishment in nearly 30 years as tribal chairman is unparalleled.
"Richard's commitment to tribal sovereignty was deeply rooted in his fundamental belief in fairness and ethical behavior. He was such a passionate advocate on this issue, and for "his people.' Richard understood that the treatment of tribes by various levels of government left some bitter feelings, but he never allowed past injustices to prevent future achievements. Richard taught me why tribal sovereignty was such an important concept.
"But just as importantly, Richard understood how local community issues and tribal issues were closely intertwined -- and why one should not benefit at the expense of the other. That's how true leaders and statesmen think and act.
"As tribal chairman for nearly three decades, Richard rose to become a legendary figure within Indian Country. And yet, he never lost his common touch, and remained deeply grounded in the traditions and spiritual connection to his ancestral lands and the heritage of his people.
"And make no mistake about it: Richard Milanovich was a great national leader, not just a local leader. Governor Brown's appearance today, along with all of the other tribal chairmen and elected representatives, is a testament to the reverence and respect in which he's held.
"Richard's legacy will be measured by the impact his indomitable spirit had on the tribe he led, the community in which he lived, and the country he loved so deeply.
"The Agua Caliente believe the strength of their people is drawn from the tribe's sacred origins in the mountains, canyons and desert in which they have resided for centuries. And Richard loved those mountains and canyons so much, calling them his true home.
"God bless you, my friend. I look forward to the time when we can roam those canyons together."