Issues Affecting American Indians in Tennessee
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  • Michael Lynch, West Tennessee (2008-12)
         member, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
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         descendant, Cherokee
  • Mark Cantrell, Middle Tennessee (2010-14)
         unknown tribal affiliation
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  • Brent A. Cox (2008-2012)
    444 Cades Atwood Road
    Milan, Tennessee 38358
    731-723-9994

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    Issues Affecting American Indians in Tennessee


    Issues Affecting American Indians in Tennessee
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    GOP leader continues ‘honest injun’ controversy

    http://www.indianco untrytoday. com/politics/ 81346847. html

    GOP leader continues ‘honest injun’ controversy *MSNBC commentator uses ‘off the reservation’* By Rob Capriccioso

    Story Published: Jan 13, 2010

    Story Updated: Jan 14, 2010


    WASHINGTON – Instead of apologizing without condition for using a racist term, the top GOP leader parsed his own words, while calling on another politician to step down for using racially offensive words.

    Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele encountered criticism after his Jan. 4 appearance on the Sean Hannity Fox News program for using the phrase “honest injun” to punctuate a point he was making about conservative ideals.

    Several Native American leaders, including the Native American Journalists Association and congressional advocates, noted that the term is racist, and said Steele should apologize.

    But Steele did not do so in the immediate days after the program aired, and calls to the Republican National Committee for comment went unreturned on the matter.

    Then, later that same week, word came by way of a new political book that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had said during the 2008 presidential campaign that now-President Barack Obama had a good chance at winning the election since he is “light-skinned” and has “no Negro dialect.”

    Almost immediately, Steele called on Reid to step down from his Senate leadership post because the words are racist.

    Reid instead apologized and several top Democrats, including Obama himself, came to his defense, saying he has a strong record on race issues.

    It was during another Fox News appearance, this time on Jan. 10, where Steele was confronted with his apparent hypocrisy.

    After covering Steele’s distaste for Reid’s remark, host Chris Wallace asked the top GOP politico about his own “honest injun” remark, noting that congressmen from both parties said that it is a racial slur. Dictionaries agree, noting that the phrase is considered impolite and politically incorrect because “injun” is a slang term for American Indians.

    “Well, if it is, I apologize for it,” Steele responded on the show. “It’s not an intent to be a racial slur. I wasn’t intending to say a racial slur at all.

    “The reality of it is that’s not the same as what we were talking about before. That’s not saying I’m some loose cannon and wild, you know, dog out here running around not being able to be controlled.”

    Steele’s conditional take on the phrase has outraged some Native Americans, as they say he is qualifying his own racism, while hypocritically calling for the resignation of a person who has said he was wrong – and apologized unconditionally – for using a racist term.

    “It is astounding that his mind can separate himself from Sen. Reid when it comes to deciphering racist remarks,” said Ronnie Washines, president of the Native American Journalists Association.

    “How can Steele let others decide if his words were racist – and then surmise that if others think so, then he would apologize?” asked the Yakama Nation citizen.

    “All that I have heard or read coming out of his mouth since does not resemble anything close to an apology.”

    Nick Reo, director of the Native American Institute at Michigan State University, said Steele was being hypocritical, and that the statements by Reid and Steele are problematic in similar ways.

    “They both used disrespectful and disparaging language,” said the citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

    “Each has claimed that they didn’t intend their comments to be hurtful, and I believe them both.”

    He doesn’t think either Steele or Reid should lose their jobs over their comments.

    But Jeff Harjo, director of NAJA and a citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, believes Steele should indeed be punished for his hypocrisy.

    “From reading parts of the [Jan. 10] transcript, it seems that Mr. Steele is never wrong, he is arrogant and I would think the Republican Party needs to ask him to step down.”

    The Steele scenario has called increased attention to the complexities of racial language in America – and the sometimes divergent ways people think about Native Americans and racism, compared to African Americans and racism.

    Michelle Bernard, a political commentator for MSNBC, hit that point home when discussing Reid’s words on-air Jan. 11.

    Bernard, an African American, discussed the Reid situation, saying she didn’t think the words he used were completely “off the reservation.”

    Ironically, many Native Americans have a problem with the “off the reservation” phrase, saying it’s disparaging and infers that Indians should be kept in line.

    No MSNBC hosts called Bernard on the irony.

    Calls to the RNC to ask Steele to clarify the continuing controversy have gone unreturned.


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