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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Tribe's chief sachem insulted by parody

09:01 AM EST on Wednesday, November 1, 2006

By Mark Arsenault Journal Staff Writer

Narragansett Indian Tribe Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas said yesterday that an anti-casino political rally on Monday went too far with an "ignorant" and "insulting" parody of him.

The parody sketch by Charlie Hall's Ocean State Follies included Hall impersonating Thomas. A photo of Hall, wearing a rainbow-colored feather headdress, appeared in yesterday's Journal.

Question 1 on next week's ballot seeks to allow the tribe and its partner, Harrah's Entertainment, to build a casino in West Warwick. Hall was hired as entertainment at the anti-casino rally. Hall said yesterday that the skit was just "having a little fun" with the casino issue.

Charlie Hall and Doreen Collins, as Narragansett Chief Matthew Thomas and Jan Jones of Harrah's, perform "Harrah's House of Horrors," the Ocean State Follies the opening act of a rally Monday by anti-casino organizations at the Sheraton Airport Hotel in Warwick. The event was sponsored by Save Our State and We the People.

Thomas took particular offense at the headdress. "To have a gentleman standing up there with painted chicken feathers and a bunch of jewelry like he's off the set of King Kong is really insulting," Thomas said.

As chief, Thomas' traditional headdress is made from turkey feathers harkening to pre-Colonial times when the tribe hunted turkey to survive the winters and "immature eagle" feathers, signifying that Thomas is still a young chief, he said. The chief said he found the costume racist, and compared the skit to the 1992 Saturday Night Live episode in which singer Sinead O'Connor tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II.

"When I wear my traditional dress it's for very sensitive issues, usually spiritual; that's how we pray.... For Charlie Hall and [anti-casino group] SOS to do this was the equivalent of him ripping a picture of the pope to our tribe, and was very disrespectful."

Hall said yesterday that he had no idea the headdress carried such significance. "I've heard things like this before when we do some guy from Federal Hill or some guy from Johnston and we put a gold chain on him is that being racist?" Hall said. "Comedic stereotyping is the term I would use."

"With a comic troupe you're trying to find some way to identify who you are playing in the show. To me it was just having a little fun, but if he says it's much more ceremonial than that, well, then I guess I can see his side."

State Sen. James C. Sheehan, D-North Kingstown, who helped organize the event, denounced Thomas for taking a "cheap shot" at Hall. He took umbrage at Thomas' mention of the Sinead O'Connor controversy.

"Is he comparing himself to the pope?" Sheehan said. "I find that offensive as a Catholic."

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