Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Thune campaign flyer upsets Lakota people
Posted: October 30, 2004
by: David Melmer / Indian Country Today
ROSEBUD, S.D. -- A campaign flyer from John Thune's campaign office started a groundswell of resentment as it brought back some unpleasant memories of racism in South Dakota.
A flyer with a picture of prairie dogs on the front with the words "The dogs are lining up to vote for Tom Daschle," appeared in many western South Dakota mail boxes just a week before the election.
Prairie dogs are a major problem for ranchers in the state, and it has become a campaign issue.
And to add fuel to the fire, Thune campaign workers were caught taking photos of people who voted early on the Rosebud Reservation.
The problem for Indian country originated decades ago when many stores in the state displayed signs that said, "No Dogs or Indians allowed." The inference that American Indians are equated with dogs has carried on in the minds of many people middle aged and older, and they have spoken of those memories to the younger people.
Many people have taken the flyer issue to the Democratic Party offices on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservation and it was a major topic on the Pine Ridge Radio station KILI on Oct. 28.
"I'm very surprised to hear there is a problem," said Dick Wadhams, Thune's campaign manager.
"Anyone who reads the piece will see that it has to do with prairie dogs in South Dakota," he said. "I'm sorry if someone took offense."
Prairie dogs are a problem on the Rosebud, Pine Ridge and other reservations, as well as in the ranch country of western South Dakota, but the tribes are trying to resolve the issue in a cultural way.
American Indians look at the prairie dog as a member of the animal nation and show it respect. The prairie dogs in harmony with the buffalo create a balanced ecosystem. The American Indians who are ranchers also want a solution, but a sensible and culturally-sensitive solution.
The prairie dog flyer comes on the heels of a letter sent by the state Republican Party that implied that the 2002 election won by Sen. Tim Johnson was stolen. Thune was his challenger and lost the election by 524 votes. Even though the reservations were not mentioned in the letter, people in the state associated the letter with American Indian voters.
"This letter already made the association with the reservations and American Indian voters.
"This flyer shows poor taste and judgment," said Robert Moore, chief of staff for Rosebud Chairman Charles Colombe.
Moore said he remembers the story of his grandfather and grandmother traveling in a wagon all day to go to town only to find the store closed to them with the sign that read: "No dogs and Indians allowed."
The flyer wouldn't have been so offensive had it used the words prairie dog instead of just dog. Also inside the flyer the sentence: "No wonder the varmints are heading to the polls to vote for him."
As that flyer was put in the mail, there were more than 1,300 members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe that had already voted; at Pine Ridge more than 1,000. So the inference is perceived, people said, that they are the dogs that are showing up to vote. It is known that American Indians vote Democratic more than Republican.
"This is a people to people issue, not a nation to nation issue. It's a tragedy, people are feeling pain. If they call us dogs once again we won't pay any attention to them," Moore said.
People said on the radio they know the flyer was about prairie dogs, but the poor choice of words brought back memories of racial epithets.
"We are also a people who have issues with prairie dogs and also who are trying to figure out how to pay for prescription drugs. We are not only tribal members we are citizens of this state," Moore said.
Another major issue that surfaced regarding the Thune campaign was that some people who identified themselves as Thune's campaign workers were taking pictures of people who went to the auditor's office to vote early.
"They don't want us to vote. We will be talking about this for years because we don't want this to happen again," Moore said.
Thune's campaign office had no comment about the photos taken at the voting location.
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