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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Article published Jan 6, 2007

Lawmaker's remarks draw peer criticism, prompt floor apology

Tribune Capitol Bureau

HELENA — State Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, publicly apologized Friday to his Democratic colleague Jonathan Windy Boy of Box Elder for calling him "chief" and asking on Thursdaywhether an outsize gavel "would qualify as a war club."

"I meant it as a compliment," said Butcher, who has a history of intemperate remarks. Butcher directed his apology, made on the floor of the state House of Representatives, toward an empty chair. Windy Boy was attending a meeting of the Chippewa-Cree Business Council, of which he's a member.

Windy Boy said in a telephone interview that Butcher's comments hadn't particularly bothered him. "I've known Ed for a long time, and I don't expect anything different. ... You can't teach an old dog new tricks," he said.

Besides, Windy Boy said, "growing up in the '60s near Havre, where you'd see the signs in the (store) windows saying 'No dogs or Indians allowed,' you just get used to it."

For his part, Butcher said he found the entire matter "absurd."

"It sure as hell wasn't anything racist," said Butcher, adding that his adopted daughter is from the Rocky Boy's Reservation, and that he's an honorary member of the Metis. "The whole thing is politics. ... The Democrats like taking cheap shots at me."

The comments that resulted in the apology came Thursday while members of the House Agriculture Committee, which Butcher chairs, were waiting to begin their first meeting. Among them was Rep. Shannon Augare, a freshman Democrat from Browning.

He said Butcher's comments shook him.

"My constituents, Montana's first citizens, like all other citizens of Big Sky Country, ask to be treated with respect," said Augare, who is Blackfeet.

Augare consulted with members of the Democratic leadership, among them Margarett Campbell of Poplar, who is minority whip.

Campell, who is Assiniboine, said she wasn't surprised.

"Historically, Ed has worn his foot in his mouth," she said of Butcher, who referred to Indian reservations as "ghettos" during the 2001 legislative session, and called developmentally disabled people "vegetables" in 2004

"But I thought maybe he'd learned something," she said.

Addressing her House colleagues, Campbell said that "many people will never experience the racist comments that have a tendency to burn into your memory and soul forever. ... The words of Rep. Butcher were very hurtful and extremely inappropriate."

Butcher kept his apology brief. After the House adjourned for the day, he said he called Windy Boy "chief" because of his position on the business council.

"I always thought the chief was the main man. I have a lot of very positive feelings for Windy Boy," he said. "Of all the Native members of the Legislature, I felt the most respect for him. He's one of the sharpest of the Native representatives."

In his response to Butcher's apology, House Minority Leader John Parker, D-Great Falls, said that "the Indian legislators of Montana deserve to walk through the halls of this Capitol and be treated with dignity and respect. The Indian children of Montana deserve to grow up in a world where they are free from abuse and scorn."

Parker said he didn't believe Butcher's comments reflected the views of the House Republicans. "I hope that having this apology means that this is never going to happen again," he said.

Campbell said she was glad the incident was dealt with on a Friday.

"We tried to keep it from becoming a food fight on the floor," she said. "We've got Saturday and Sunday to heal, and on Monday, we can get back to business."


Lawmaker apologizes for comments
Winifred's Butcher referred to Indian colleague as 'chief'

Gazette State Bureau

HELENA — Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, was made to apologize Friday on the House floor after referring to an American Indian lawmaker as "chief" and asking the lawmaker if a committee chairman's gavel wielded by Butcher constituted a "war club."

"It was meant as a compliment," Butcher said to his "chief" comment in an apology before the 100-member House of Representatives.

Butcher made the comments Thursday afternoon at a meeting of the House Agriculture Committee, which he chairs. He promised fellow lawmakers he would conduct future meetings "in a way that upholds the dignity of the House."

Butcher said House Republican leaders summoned him to their offices after Democrats objected and that he was told to apologize on the House floor on Friday.

Butcher said in an interview afterward that he made the comments before the committee meeting had formally convened.

People were milling about the room at the Capitol and making small talk, he said.

Butcher said he has an extra-large gavel and turned to Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Rocky Boy, a member of the committee, and asked him if the gavel could be a "war club."

Then, shortly before the meeting was to start, but while Windy Boy was not present, Butcher said the meeting couldn't begin because he was waiting on "Chief Windy Boy."

"There sure as hell wasn't anything negative about (the comment)" Butcher said, adding that he had always considered Windy Boy one of the "sharpest" American Indian lawmakers in the House.

Butcher said if he intended to say something disparaging about American Indians, "I would have come up with something (worse) than that."

"He's a tribal leader," Butcher said, referring to Windy Boy, who is a Chippewa-Cree Tribal Council member. "I always thought the chief was the main man."

Windy Boy was not in the House on Friday, because he was in Rocky Boy attending a tribal council meeting.

Butcher's comments brought sharp rebukes Friday from American Indian lawmakers and Republican and Democratic leaders of the House.

House Majority Leader Mike Lange, R-Billings, called the comments "inappropriate" when announcing Butcher's apology.

Rep. Margarett Campbell, D-Poplar, an American Indian lawmaker whose district includes Assiniboine and Sioux tribal members on the Fort Peck Reservation, said in a brief speech that she didn't believe "the good people of Montana (wanted) the indigenous people of this state to be used as the butt of bad jokes and inappropriate comments."

Campbell said in an interview afterward that she thought Butcher's comments were careless, but not necessarily malicious. She said she didn't want to "pick a fight" with Butcher but felt compelled to address racism when it presented itself.

"My guess is the 9,000 people he represents would not like to have these comments spoken on their behalf," Campbell said.

Rep. Shannon Augare, D-Browning and a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, said in an interview that he didn't think Butcher's use of "chief" was complimentary.

"I'm disappointed that in this body people still say things like that," said Augare, a freshman lawmaker serving his third day in the Legislature.

Augare said he was pleased that both Democratic and Republican leaders viewed Butcher's remarks as inappropriate.

House Minority Leader John Parker, D-Great Falls, said as soon as he found out about the comments Thursday, he talked to Republican House leaders, who also found Butcher's words unacceptable.

Butcher said he thought the incident may have been overblown and said one of his own children is an enrolled member of Windy Boy's reservation tribes, a girl whom Butcher adopted as an infant.

"It makes this whole thing ironic," he said.

During the last Legislature, Butcher apologized after referring to severely developmentally disabled students as "vegetables" at an education meeting.

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.


Rep. Butcher and INDN's List exchange words over comments made to Rep Windyboy

Liz Gray 2/8/2007

The Indigenous Democratic Network spoke out this week to their list of followers against what they called "racist and hurtful comments" made by Rep. Butcher of Montana toward Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy. Hundreds of letters were sent to the Representatives office, in which he responded in an "insensitive manner", according to an announcement sent out by INDN's List.

"You left-wing radicals should get a life with your "political correct" nonsense! In case you have lived outside the mainstream for too long, the word "chief" is used as a descriptive term for someone in leadership—I have been called that on numerous occasions and I sure as heck did not see that as a racial slur since my Viking ancestors were also called "chief", said Rep. Butcher to the INDN's list followers.

The scuff between the two political entities started when Rep. Ed Butcher referred to Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy of Montana as "Chief Windy Boy" before a House Agriculture Committee last month. Butcher also later asked Windy Boy, who is Assiniboine and Cree, whether his large gavel qualified as a "war club."

He later was made to apologize on the House Floor and soon heard comments made by Rep. Margarett Campbell, D-Poplar, an American Indian lawmaker whose district includes Assiniboine and Sioux tribal members on the Fort Peck Reservation. In her brief speech she commented that she didn't believe "the good people of Montana (wanted) the indigenous people of this state to be used as the butt of bad jokes and inappropriate comments."

Rob's comment
Butcher said, "I always thought the chief was the main man." But although Rocky Boy is a politician and tribal leader, he isn't a chief. Therefore, calling him "chief" was stereotypical.

Butcher's comment reflects the common belief that Indian tribes were primitive, with a simple structure consisting of one chief and a bunch of "braves." In reality, Indian tribes had a variety of structures. Besides a ruler or "chief," they often had war chiefs, tribal councils, councils of elders or women, clan leaders, priests, medicine men, et al.—all of whom had areas of authority.

Related links
The big chief

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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