By Angela Wittrock
The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi say Bernero made the remarks at his annual State of the City preview breakfast, held Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Lansing Center.
"The man walked on stage with a target on his back," Frank Cloutier, a spokesperson for the tribes said. "He was saying some pretty disparaging things about Native American culture, and he referred to our coalition spokesperson, James Nye, as Chief Chicken Little."
Nye is the spokesperson for a coalition of tribes and casinos opposed to the proposed Lansing casino, which would be owned and operated by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
The Saginaw tribe is the only tribe in Michigan that refers to its highest authority as chief.
"Historically, the word chief honors our ancestors and those who came before us. Mr. Bernero disrespected our whole culture and history," he said.
The Detroit Free Press reported Bernero referred to the bull's-eye on his back and said he was the target of "bows and arrows" for championing the Lansing casino.
“I’ve been in a lot of debates but never been personally attacked,” he said. “This is embarrassing … pretty disgusting.”
Bernero was not available to comment. But his office issued a statement at midday Monday saying the mayor disagreed with his critics.
"My passionate support for Lansing and our casino project may have gotten the better of me, but none of my remarks were directed toward Native Americans, and nothing I said can fairly be construed as a racial slur,” he said. “I make no apologies for using strong language against our opponents … but I do offer my heartfelt and sincere apology to any and all who were offended by my choice of words.”
For more on the subject, see Conservatives Use "Language of Savagery" and The Last Acceptable Racism.
I first heard about it on a morning "drive time" talk radio network, in the area where Nye's tribe is located.
The host, Ron Jolly, put a question out for his listeners. Asking whether or not the "Chief" term was racist or not. In particular he wanted to hear from Natives.
He fielded many calls until the 8:00 break. Not a one came from a Native. Some were quite predictable.
Like the white guy who said he was Native American because he was born in the US.
At least one caller (non-Native of course) who said that Native-based team names and mascots are all great because they are doing nothing but honoring the Indians.
Some callers saying that it's not racist if there is not racist 'intent'
One white woman married to a Native who loved being called Chief.
No Natives called.
After the break, a called criticized the host for not having Native perspectives. At least he tried.
The next day Ron Jolly had the victim of the tirade on his program to give his point of view.
Turns out that Bernero also threatened violence against Nye. Nye also mentioned how Bernero said something like "We are under attack from the Indians".
I will mention that Bernero is a very liberal Democrat because you always point out when such racism comes from conservatives and Republicans.
He's also in general a nasty, belligerent and hateful fellow, whose generally offensive candidacy for Michigan's Governorship a couple of years ago resulted in very strong gains for Republicans.
The man who won that race is Governor Rick Snyder, a mild conservative Republican with a strong pragmatic streak. click here to a typical article about his dealings with Michigan's Native tribes.
James Nye is also mentioned in the article, and Gov. Snyder is able to deal with Nye without acting like a drunken 1950s cowboy children's show host. Unlike Bernero.
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