Mayor denies making racial slurs against casino opponents

Mayor Virg Bernero of Lansing, Michigan, acknowledged using "strong language" against opponents of an off-reservation casino but he denied any racist intent against Native people.

Bernero offered a "heartfelt and sincere apology" to anyone who was offended when he said he was under fire from "bows and arrows" because he supports the off-reservation casino for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. He also referred to a Grand Traverse Band member who has spoken out against the proposal as “Chief Chicken Little.”

However, Bernero still defended his remarks, which were made at a Democratic fundraiser last week. "My passionate support for Lansing and our casino project may have gotten the better of me, but none of my remarks were directed toward Native Americans, and nothing I said can fairly be construed as a racial slur, despite our opponent's attempt to spin it that way," he said in his statement.

Sault Tribe Chairman Joe Eitrem also rushed to Bernero's side. He said the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians were only trying to stir up more opposition to the Lansing casino.

"I would ask people to see this episode for what it is: it is nothing more than the operators of other casinos desperately trying to stop a new competitor and thousands of new jobs and economic benefits for the Lansing region and our tribe," Eitrem said in a statement.

“I’ve been in a lot of debates but never been personally attacked,” James Nye, a member of the Grand Traverse Band who was referred to as "Chief Chicken Little," told The Detroit Free Press. “This is embarrassing … pretty disgusting.”

Get the Story:
Lansing mayor offers apology in wake of American Indian remarks (The Detroit Free Press 1/31)
Lansing mayor apologizes for statement attacking casino opponents (The Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun 1/31)
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe Chair response to fracas over Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero's comments (The Lansing News 1/31)
Bernero's remarks last week called racially insensitive (The Lansing State Journal 1/31)
Lansing casino faces obstacles (The MSU State News 1/31)
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero: Remarks can't be 'fairly construed' as racist (The Lansing News 1/30)

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Editorial: Off-reservation casino worth pursuing in Michigan (1/25)
Another tribe opposed to off-reservation casino in Michigan (1/24)
Editorial: Sault Tribe off-reservation casino bad for Michigan (1/24)
Turtle Talk: An unrealistic timeline for off-reservation casino (1/23)
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe announces off-reservation casino plans (1/23)