Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona). Photo from Rep. Gosar

Rep. Gosar won't apologize for calling Native Americans 'wards'

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) is refusing to explain why he called Native Americans "wards of the federal government."

Gosar made the comment at a town hall meeting in Arizona last week. He was defending a controversial provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes a huge copper mine on sacred Apache sites.

"You're still wards of the federal government," Gosar told Phil Stago, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe who challenged the provision, The Arizona Daily Star reported.

American Indians and Alaska Natives are not wards of the federal government. That era ended with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

"He kind of revealed the truth — the true deep feeling of the federal government: 'Tribes, you can call yourselves sovereign nations, but when it comes down to the final test, you're not really sovereign because we still have plenary authority over you,'" Stago told the Associated Press.

Yet Gosar won't apologize for making an inaccurate comment. His spokesperson claimed Stago misinterpreted the remarks.

"If that's what he got out of that, I think it's misconstrued," the spokesperson told the AP. "If you look at the work the congressman has done, that's far from the truth."

The Indian Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution recognizes tribal governments as sovereign nations. But they are often described in court decisions as "domestic dependent nations" -- a term that was created to justify state encroachment and federal encroachment on tribal territories.

The distinction, however, does not apply to Native people themselves. To call them "wards" treats them differently than every other American, according to advocates.

"That's just not appropriate," former U.S. attorney Troy Eid told the AP, referring to Gosar's remarks. "In the heated context of what this represents, it's especially inappropriate to be resorting to what amounts to race baiting."

Gosar and other members of Arizona's Congressional delegation -- including Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona), whose district includes Apache reservations -- support the land swap for the Resolution Copper mine. The House voted 300-119 last week to pass the 1,648-page package.

The Senate is expected to vote later today on the bill.

A petition on to stop the land swap has exploded in interest in the last few days. It has more than 67,000 signatures as of this afternoon.

Get the Story:
Congressman's Native American remark causes outcry (AP 12/10)
Apache tribe distressed by privatization of sacred land (The Arizona Daily Sun 12/11)

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