Some Natives react uncomfortably to Obama’s inaugural speech
By Rob Capriccioso
“I don’t think he was referring to Indian tribes, but I do think the words are disturbing,” said Robert Odawi Porter, a Seneca law professor at Syracuse University. “What the president was speaking to was the erasing of ethnic lines of distinction on a global level–lines of distinction which differentiate humanity–of which indigenous peoples are a part. So, in that sense, I’m concerned about the president’s apparent desire to see the ‘tribal’ lines that distinguish peoples from one another disappear.”
Porter, a senior policy advisor to and lawyer for the Seneca Nation of Indians noted that beyond his reading, some Natives have taken the president’s words quite literally.
Such is the case with elder Kahentinetha Horn, who wrote in a recent column for the Mohawk Nation News that she believes Obama “sneaked in the intention to ignore us when he said that ‘the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve.’”
The newspaper publisher believes Obama’s words to be “all the more devious” because they come “in this velvet glove that claims that it’s being done in a spirit of cooperation.”
When asked by Indian Country Today about the contentious line, White House officials seemed aghast that anyone would suggest a negative meaning behind Obama’s words.
In an official statement, Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, said: “President Obama was not referring to Native American tribes in this line of his inaugural address. As he said and demonstrated throughout his initiatives during the campaign, the Native American community has a partner in the White House with President Obama.”
That measured response aside, behind the scenes, White House and transition officials did not take kindly to the query–which has become all the more reason for caution from some Natives who are asking, “Does he really get it?”
This isn't about just one or two lines in his Inaugural Address. Like most politicians, Obama has talked about those who founded the nation, settled the West, and gave us our exceptional qualities. As far as I'm concerned, these are code words to assuage the feelings of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority. The message: "Even though I'm black, I won't rock the boat. I'll stick to the standard Thanksgiving feast/log cabin/wagon train version of America's history."
I've talked to writer Capriccioso. He may read this blog. If so, I'm glad to have done my part in furthering this controversy.
For more on the subject, see Obama to Dissolve Tribes?