The Last Warrior

This autobiography, told apparently in Peter MacDonald’s own words but clarified or expanded at times by his cowriter, Ted Schwarz, is a curious work. On the one hand, it reads as a traditional life story. It recounts MacDonald’s childhood as a Navajo in the 1930’s and 1940’s, as he learns the traditional ways of his people but also encounters prejudice and racism from the white race around him. MacDonald tells how he passed up the opportunity to become a medicine man and chose instead to make his way into the outer world to earn money. He joined the Marines during World War II and became a Navajo code-talker, a system used by the Allied forces to confuse the enemy, who were never able to break the Indian code. After the war, he went to college, worked as an engineer for Hughes Aircraft, and became a designer for the Polaris missile project.

The second part of the book describes MacDonald’s return to the Navajo tribe and his eventual rise to the role of chairman of the people. This section is an interesting and often informative account of Native American politics played against the big-money interests (represented most prominently by then-Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater) who wished to take over their land. His battles with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and with the United States Congress underscore the criminality that has so often accompanied Native American dealings with the federal government and big business.

Because MacDonald’s own career was marked by charges of corruption and eventually ended in his sentencing and incarceration, the book also seems an unconvincing and finally self-serving attempt to exonerate a man who, from all evidence, was seduced by power and influence. His efforts to squelch the American Indian Movement (AIM) and his overall willingness to live the good life finally make MacDonald a less-than-sympathetic figure and raise too many unanswered questions about his true motives.