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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Indian-state meeting plan debated

Gazette State Bureau

HELENA Divisions within the Legislature's interim State-Tribal Relations Committee were highlighted Wednesday during talk about bringing state and tribal leaders together to solve several lingering problems.

The three non-Indian members of the six-member committee questioned plans by the governor's office to hold meetings in which as many as 300 state and tribal officials from across the state would try to end longstanding disputes over how the governments handle education, corrections, economic development and health and human services.

At one point, Sen. Jerry O'Neil, R-Kalispell, asked why the meetings are necessary, since the interim committee is already planning to visit the reservations.

He said that rather than spending $36,000 to bring tribal representatives to Helena for a meeting, he could "offer them a roll of postage stamps."

Indian Affairs Coordinator Bruce Meyers explained that none of the money would come from the state. Meyers said he is working on getting grants from private foundations and corporations that want to see better government-to-government relations between states and Indian tribes.

Rep. Ken Peterson, R-Billings, said he wanted assurances that Indians who live outside reservations would be allowed to contribute to the meetings.

O'Neil agreed that urban people should be a part of the meetings, but Sen. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, wanted to know, "What's the big heartburn here for these people who are off the reservation and are making their own way?"

As for Indian people living on the reservations, Butcher complained that, with welfare time limits pending, some Indians in Montana are moving back to their reservations, where the time limits do not apply.

"They're unwilling or incapable of working like normal outside people do," Butcher said. "The elders or the parents, and I hear this all the time, are encouraging them to move back home."

The three Indian members of the committee said they were dismayed by what was said, especially by Butcher. He drew criticism from Indian legislators during the 2001 session for calling reservations "ghettos."

"I really take offense, personal offense, at some of the words Senator Butcher has chosen to use," said Rep. Carol Juneau, D-Browning. Juneau, originally from North Dakota, is Mandan-Hidatsa.

Sen. Gerald Pease, D-Lodge Grass and a Crow tribal member, said he, too, was offended.

"I'm still astonished that this thought is still out there," Pease said.

Meyers said Wednesday's discussion merely highlighted the need for the meetings "so stereotypes like these and prejudicial statements can be rectified," he said.

Vincent Goes Ahead, vice-chairman of the Crow tribe, who attended the committee meeting Wednesday to support the proposed town hall meetings, said: "There's two worlds, and you've got to open yourself up to both worlds. You can't live in a box."

"This is an excellent opportunity to bring everyone to the table," said Rep. Norma Bixby, D-Lame Deer.

Meyers said he hoped that the first town hall meeting, on education, would be in late May or early June.

Updated: Thu Jan 10 17:52:15 CST 2002 Central Time
Copyright The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

Analysis of Butcher's remarks

Questionable commentary reveals a bunch

Posted: February 19, 2002 -- 7:00AM EST

Sen. Ed Butcher, a Republican, is quoted in The Billings Gazette as saying, "They're unwilling or incapable of working like normal outside people do," "The elders or the parents, and I hear this all the time, are encouraging them to move back home."

Montana State Sen. Ed Butcher's statement is worth examining. His aides are all over now telling the story of a fun give-and-take that occasioned the remarks, saying he "didn't mean anything" by them.

Talking about "they" is the first clue. For many politicians, when talking about American Indians, perhaps even more than when referring to African-Americans or Latinos, the terms are immediately "us and them." They, "the other," who in this case are "reservation" Indians, are not only different, but inferior, and must be easily pigeonholed into stereotypical images.

It is those "they," who are "unwilling or incapable" of "working like normal, outside people do."

Unwilling perhaps rebelliously, perhaps because they are lazy or don't like us, they are "unwilling" to work, "like normal outside people (us) do."

Or "incapable." Incapable? There used to be a phrase about savages, heathens. It was said that they were, "incapable of civilization." They can not be civilized. Incapable of being normal, like us, the "outside the reservation" people.

Normal, outside people. This is a good one. Butcher is on pretty clear ground on what he means to say in this phrase. Clearly for him the "us and them" is quite delineated. There are two peoples here, two cultures, he says firmly. You might be tempted to wonder why the good senator might be so invested in that idea.

Well, here is a good kicker. Butcher is actually incredulous about this idea: "The elders or the parents, and I hear this all the time, are encouraging them to move back home."

"To move back home."

There is a message in this one about culture, about sense of community and place, about not losing all the contributions of your talented young people to the larger American society. The Indian elders want their young to come home. Imagine that! Butcher seems to be wondering, since "he hears this all the time."

Now, why would the elders say such a thing? Is it that if they keep going back home, these reservations just might last forever, that Indian people might in fact rebuild their the prosperity of their nations on their own lands? Is it that to him being "normal" in America is for one's children to go away to places where nobody knows them, where young children mostly grow up without being near their grandparents? It is true that many families live under those conditions in modern life, yet the impetus to maintain and rebuild community, regardless of how poor or destitute, as long as the land stays in Indian hands, is deep indeed. To understand this reality is one early step necessary for any politician who wants to understand his Indian constituents.

Butcher, who is an adoptive parent to an Indian daughter, is working hard to fend off the remarks. Perhaps, as he claims, they were superficial quotes from a moment of hard joking. Perhaps he even deserves a second chance at getting to know how to converse with actual American Indian peoples, to come to know the values and desires of Indian communities. One thing for certain, it is always amazing how just a few easy words can carry so much meaning and reveal so much about America's often troubled relations with its original peoples.

Related links
Good-for-nothing Indians
Indians as welfare recipients

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