Imagine for a moment: New York Governor David Paterson finds himself in the eleventh
hour of a controversy involving an African American group exerting its fundamental
rights against the State of New York. He turns to Mayor Bloomberg for advice, thinking
the Mayor may have a promising diplomatic strategy to suggest. Instead, the Mayor
quips, "Get a white robe and piece of rope, and show them who's boss -- now that would
be a great video!" Shock. Outrage from all corners. Marching in the streets. Political
The real shock and outrage is that Bloomberg recently made essentially the same
statements about Native Americans, and no one raised an eyebrow. Last week, in
response to the Governor's request for guidance on how to deal with the sensitive issue
of the sale of tax-free cigarettes on sovereign Indian lands within New York State, the
Mayor suggested -- cowboy up. With the diplomatic grace of a wrangler hunting Indian
scalps, his government-to-government negotiation advice was: "You know, get yourself
a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there's ever a great video, it's you standing in the middle
of the New York State Thruway saying, you know, 'Read my lips -- the law of the land is
this, and we're going to enforce the law.'" Brilliant.
As an enrolled citizen of the Seneca Nation of Indians, who lives and works on Seneca
territory, I am outraged and deeply saddened by the Mayor's cavalier and insensitive
remarks. They smack of the not so distant past when states would offer cold hard cash
for the scalps of Indian men, women and children. It was not that long ago U.S. political
leaders proclaimed that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. The Mayor's shoot-from-
the-hip statements are truly unbelievable in this day and age. Such statements against
any other ethnic group would be unfathomable, and answered with quick condemnation.
Indians, however, have always been the weakest ethnic group (economically and
politically), and an easy and safe target for verbal gunslingers like Bloomberg.
After being forced and coerced to give up our vast tracts of lands, in exchange for
immutable treaty rights to conduct commerce without state interference on the minuscule
reservations we now call home, we found a way to eek out a living for our people through
the tobacco trade. Native Americans have the highest rate of poverty of any ethnic group
in the U.S. A visit to any Indian territory would be a true culture shock for most non-
Natives. But New York State needs to shore up its widening budget gap. So, let's shake
down the Indians -- an easy and defenseless target. While we're at it, let's threaten them
with shotguns and cowboy hats, and remind them that we're not that far from taking
In addition to being a citizen of the Seneca Nation and an Indian, my father is Jewish.
This makes me doubly insulted by the Mayor's remarks. As two of the most persecuted
groups in history, there are many parallels between Indians and Jews. It's incredible that
Bloomberg, as a Jew, would go so far as to conjure up images of an oppressor doling out
rough shotgun justice on a minority ethnic group. Taking away economic livelihood by
force was a strategy employed by Hitler against the Jews. This strikes a similar chord.
The Mayor's statements are shameful. They further the notion that Native Americans
are not a distinct people deserving of respect. Instead, the Mayor reduces Native
Americans to an inferior group that can only be dealt with in one way -- with the butt of a
shotgun. These types of statements prey on our small populations and lack of meaningful
mainstream representation. Native Americans have risen above incredible obstacles.
Our lands were taken away. Our populations were purposefully decimated in order to
make way for Europeans. Many of our parents and grandparents were forced to attend
Indian boarding assimilation schools, where students were beaten and sexually assaulted
if they dared to speak their Native languages. We're trying to recover. We're trying
to regain our culture, customs and ways through the few economic channels that are
available to us. For Mayor Bloomberg to so callously reduce us to shooting targets for
cowboys resurrects years of suffering and abuse in the minds of many Native Americans.
The Mayor's statements shouldn't just outrage Native Americans. All Americans,
regardless of ethnic group, should be deeply upset. The day a government official, in
one of the most multi-racial cities in the United States, singles out an ethnic group as an
object of unprovoked attack, is a sad day for all of us. Cowboy hats and shotguns have
no place in the Native American discourse.
David Kimelberg is an enrolled citizen (Bear clan) of the Seneca Nation of Indians. He
is the CEO of Seneca Holdings LLC, the investment arm of the Seneca Nation, and the
founder of nativeinvestment.com, an online forum and blog about economic development
in Indian Country. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Seneca Nation
of Indians or Seneca Holdings.