Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Comments by anti-casino group draw chief's ire
Narragansett Indian Chief Matthew Thomas says any use of the phrase "tears in the eyes" is offensive because it evokes a sad chapter in Indian history.
01:00 AM EDT on Saturday, July 1, 2006
BY KATHERINE GREGG
Journal State House Bureau
PROVIDENCE — He denounced as "racial slurs" the comments made this week by the leader of a new anti-casino group that calls itself "Save Our State."
Narragansett Indian Chief Matthew Thomas also suggested the group rename itself: "Save Our Self-Interest."
Referring to published comments made by retired Cookson America chairman Richard Oster on Thursday, Thomas said: "I am deeply offended by Mr. Oster's comments. . .They are racial slurs and unfortunately, he probably doesn't even know it."
Thomas responded specifically to Oster's suggestion that the tribe's Las Vegas backer, Harrah's Entertainment, was using the tribe to draw sympathy — and votes — in the November referendum on changing the state Constitution to specifically allow the proposed Harrah's-Narragansett Indian casino in a West Warwick industrial park.
Oster's quote that drew his ire: "It's not going to do them any good this time to use the tears in the eyes for the Indians as a pawn. Believe me, Harrah's doesn't give a damn about them."
Thomas said any use of the phrase "tears in the eyes" is offensive because it evokes a sad chapter in history in which members of the Cherokee nation were forced, by the 1830 Indian Removal Act, "to move out of the Mississippi area into modern day Oklahoma and that is known as the trail of tears."
"I'm saying anybody that says tear in the eyes of the Indians and pawns, to me — in Indian country — is a racial slur whether people like it or not."
He also denounced the new Save Our State Coalition, whose members include former Attorney General James O'Neil, the president of the Providence Performing Arts Center Lynn Singleton, and former Providence College basketball coach Dave Gavitt, as a front for an opposition-drive by the two Connecticut casinos: Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
In response, Oster yesterday said he would not apologize for his comments, only for the way Thomas took them.
"I think he is a very good man. I think he is a good chief. I think he has done a great job for his people," said Oster of Thomas. But, "he is being used by Harrah's and the backroom boys."
Once again, he also called the notion of voting first to give Harrah's an exclusive casino license and negotiating the terms later — "moronic."
"Does he have any minority groups in there? Or did he pat them on the head and tell them go in the woods?" Thomas asked rhetorically, during a teleconference with reporters that was arranged by the casino-lobby's new press secretary Jonathan Romano that ended abruptly.
The line went dead while the chief was being asked about his willingness to make public his tribe's as-yet-undisclosed contract with Harrah's.
Before the line went dead, he said the tribe expects about $20 million a year from the casino, an opportunity to buy it after 15 years and hiring preference. But as for the contract itself, he said: "I'm pretty sure eventually that will be available." When asked when that might be, he suggested sometime after the November vote.
"I guess, first of all, the one thing we'd have to do is make sure we get an agreement or a deal with the state so everybody can see what everybody is going to get," he said.
Asked why he believes the new anti-casino coalition should name itself "Save our Self-Interest," Thomas said: "If obviously, they are just looking to stop a particular project because they are in a position where they don't need the employment, they don't need the benefits. . .yeah, that's self-interest."
I think Oster was referring to the famous image of Iron Eyes Cody crying, not the Trail of Tears. This image might be less offensive to Thomas, but it would still be stereotypical.
The idea that Indians are pawns—that they don't know what they're doing, that they're too naive to deal with outsiders, that big businesses are taking advantage of them—is also stereotypical. It goes all the way back to Columbus's belief that Indians were as ignorant and innocent as children.
While some Indians may indeed be naive, many are as sharp and sophisticated as the people they're dealing with. Of course, Indians get criticized for this too. When they sign a good deal, they're crafty or greedy; when they sign a bad deal, they're dupes or pawns.
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