Ray Halbritter: Shame on Indian Country for ignoring bigot speech
"When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used offensive, derogatory and incendiary Old West imagery last month in discussing the controversy over tax collection from sovereign Indian nations, New York Indians staged a protest at City Hall, called on the mayor to apologize, passed resolutions condemning his remarks, and some even explored filing a formal “hate speech” complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. The National Congress of American Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes also weighed in, taking the mayor to task for his thoughtless, hurtful words.

Some Indian people, myself included, expected that the mainstream media would pick up on the controversy. After all, whenever a politician or civil servant makes racist or bigoted remarks about other minorities, the national press always seems ready to pounce. But somehow, the fact that Mayor Bloomberg urged Gov. David Patterson to “get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun” to enforce the state’s legally questionable efforts to collect taxes from Indian-owned business didn’t even move the needle when it came to the national media’s attention level, while at the same time the mayor calls for tolerance regarding the siting of a Muslim mosque near Ground Zero did.

More disheartening, though, is that the mayor’s comments apparently didn’t even seem to stir Indian country outside the Empire State, either. For all the work American Indians have done in educating themselves and the outside world about who they really are – for all the protests over Indian stereotypes in film and television and offensive sports team names and mascots – politicians still feel free to invoke the shameful era of colonization and “conquest” whenever they covet something the Indians have. Leaders who would never dare to condone violence against our African American, Hispanic or Jewish neighbors feel comfortable using each other to use deadly force against American Indians without the slightest fear of sparking any serious public outrage.

Why is that? Is it because tribal nations are too scattered to band together effectively? Are we too wrapped up in our own concerns to pay attention to, or expend our energy on, events that happen outside our immediate communities? Or have we become so accustomed to this kind of denigration that it no longer has the power to rouse our ire? Whatever the reason, I am deeply concerned that the apathy is a reflection on our own views of ourselves, which may be even more dangerous to us than anything an outsider can say."

Get the Story:
Ray Halbritter: New York tribes are outraged – why aren’t you? (Indian Country Today 9/16)