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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Utah senator's forest fire solution: rain dance by American Indian colleague


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Utah Sen. Bob Bennett suggested a way to avoid serious forest fires in the drought-gripped West: Have the only American Indian senator do a rain dance.

Bennett said the comment was not meant to be offensive, and Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the subject of the remark, said he took no offense. But an American Indian activist said Bennett was insensitive to make light of a ritual sacred to many tribes.

During a hearing Thursday on next year's forest firefighting budget, Bennett noted the drought in much of the West and told Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, "Aside from doing a rain dance and making it rain -- we'll assign that to Sen. Campbell -- I'm not sure what you can do."

Campbell, R-Colo., said he believed the comment came in a moment of levity and Bennett may not have understood the significance of rain prayers and dances to American Indian tribes.

"It surprised me a little bit, but I didn't take personal offense at it," Campbell said. "I think actions speak louder than words, and Bob Bennett has always been there for me when I need help on an Indian issue."

Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morningstar Institute, an American Indian advocacy group, said you "can't get much more offensive than insulting a religious activity."

She said Bennett, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "wouldn't like it much if a really sacred ceremony of the Mormon people were made light of in a public setting and tossed his way. He might smile about it. He might not show any anger or be upset in public about it, but it's the sort of thing that stings."

Bennett approached Campbell on the Senate floor after his office was contacted by a reporter to make sure there was no harm done.

"It was clearly not" meant to offend, Bennett said, adding that he and Campbell have been friends since they came to the Senate together in 1992. "I was unaware it was a sacred ritual. It's part of the folklore of the West."

Earlier this year, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., was forced to resign as Senate Majority Leader after making statements at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday construed to be supportive of segregationist policies that Thurmond once supported.

Related links
"Primitive" Indian religion

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