April 29, 2011

Commissioner:  Indians should get off the rez

Indian Leaders Condemn Maine Commissioner for Reported Racist Remarks

By Gale Courey ToensingMembers of the Aroostook County business community expected Congdon to talk about economic development in the state and their region of northern Maine, an economically depressed area, MPBN reported. Instead, Congdon said that the country’s economic problems have their roots in the civil rights movement and that higher education has been going downhill ever since blacks were allowed access to American universities and colleges under the affirmative action program. Then he told those in the audience that they could forget about waiting for economic development opportunities to come to Aroostook County, and that if they wanted economic development they needed to “get off the reservation and make it happen,” the report said. He also attributed problems with Aroostoock County young people to having “bad parents.”

“Usually people are a bit more subtle than that,” said Kirk Francis, the chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation. “You have four federally recognized tribes in Maine to whom these comments are extremely insensitive at best and the civil rights affirmative action comments are much more than that. I won’t use the word, but it is what it is.”
Comment:  Here's an example of how context matters. People sometimes use the phrase "off the reservation" in a non-Native context. For instance, "Speaking off the cuff, the general went 'off the reservation' with his remarks." This terminology may say something negative about Indians, but it isn't clear what. The commenter isn't trying to attack Indians, so the offense (if any) is minor.

In contrast, Congdon was using the phrase to attack Indians. He implied they're lazy, good-for-nothing bums if they don't get "off the reservation." Never mind their land's value or their cultural ties to it. Anyone who doesn't move must be a welfare-loving socialist and government cheat.

This use of "off the reservation" is insulting. And it's racist. You never see critics slamming poor white people in Arkansas or West Virginia for not moving where the jobs are. Only Indians get criticized for staying "on the reservation." I.e., for trying to maintain their roots while developing their economic base.

For more on the subject, see "Res-Love" = Abuse and Alcoholism and "Too Many Chiefs" a Major Offense?

1 comment:

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:


Former LePage adviser says ‘political agenda’ to blame for resignation

On Wednesday, Congdon resigned his post after Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, relayed what he was hearing from constituents in a letter to LePage. The governor also spoke to Rep. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou, who confirmed he also heard from people upset by the remarks.

“I did not tell anybody in Aroostook County to ‘get off the reservation,’” Congdon said. Instead, Congdon said he may have told a group that he, himself, was going to get off the reservation as a flippant way of saying he was about to say something not necessarily consistent with the LePage administration’s message. The Bristol resident said he is part Penobscot Indian and would not intentionally offend Native Americans.