A Navajo woman honored by President Reagan yesterday in a Rose Garden ceremony pleaded with him not to cut social programs and Social Security benefits, prompting a White House official to complain later that she had not followed the script.
At a ceremony honoring senior citizen volunteers, Mae Chee Castillo, 72, was cited for joining her grandson, Willie, in saving 10 children from a burning school bus last February.
Reagan applauded their bravery and added, "Mae, thanks for showing that folks our age still have plenty of spunk."
The woman, dressed in colorful Navajo clothing, thanked Reagan and presented him with a blanket. Then she told him through a translator:
"I see the many unmet needs of other Native American elderly who do not have the basic necessities of life such as food, housing, electricity, water and health care.
"I plead with you to recognize the needs of Native American children and elderly. Among the many needs we have are educational facilities, hospitals, senior citizens' services and policies for the aged.
"We need to continue current levels of economic benefits, such as Social Security, since many, many Native American elderly depend on this support for their only source of income."
Castillo added that "we need funds for these services" because "in Indian country, there is little or no private sector."
She said "we have no roads" and asked Reagan, "in your position, please help us."
Castillo is from Window Rock, Ariz., headquarters of the Navajo tribe, and was driving the school bus from which she helped to rescue children.
It was the second time recently that Reagan heard words of disapproval from a White House guest.
A week ago, author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel implored Reagan to abandon his plans to visit a German military cemetery next weekend.
In response to Castillo, Reagan said, "I think most of those things that you were talking about here, and those problems, come under what we have called 'the safety net' and which we intend to continue, and even with regard to our battles to lower the deficit, these things will not be done away with or reduced."
Reagan did not mention that he is seeking to reduce Social Security cost-of-living adjustments by about half or that the Senate budget compromise he endorsed includes cuts in programs for the poor, such as rural housing and Medicaid.
The White House acknowledged that a presidential aide, Anne Kelly, had reproved Castillo afterward for not following the plan rehearsed in advance.
Spokesman Albert R. (Rusty) Brashear quoted Kelly as telling Castillo, "It was not what we had discussed."
Kelly did not return a call requesting comment.
Dan Lewis, a Navajo spokesman, was quoted by United Press International as saying Kelly told Castillo she was "supposed to say something very appreciative, not what she did." Lewis also said that Castillo tried to give Kelly a woven basket and rug for the president but that the gifts were rejected. Brashear said Kelly did not reject the gifts but asked only that a name, address and personal message be left with them so they could be acknowledged