November 22, 2013

"Drunken Indians" invalidate land claim?!

A third item in our ad hoc trilogy of postings about Indians and alcohol:

Meeting about tribal land ends with slurA meeting between Ravalli County and tribal leaders over a plan to place a sacred site in a federal trust took a contentious turn when a county official repeated a slur derogatory toward American Indians.

Confederated Salish and Kootenai officials met with county commissioners Wednesday in Hamilton to explain the value of the sacred site known as the Medicine Tree, located in the southern part of the Bitterroot Valley, the Ravalli Republic ( reported.

Ravalli County commissioners oppose the tribes' plan to put 58 acres of tribally owned land into trust with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, saying the county would lose $808 in annual property taxes.

The meeting ended on a sour note when county planning board chairman Jan Wisniewski of Darby said he'd recently gone on a fact-finding trip around the state, during which he visited with law enforcement officials in Havre who complained about their jails being filled with "drunken Indians."
Comment:  So the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes want to take a sacred site into trust--essentially making it part of their reservation. In response, a county planning board chairman goes on a fact-finding mission and sees "drunken Indians" in jail.

What the hell does one have to do with the other? Is he saying Indians are so drunk, so morally degenerate, that they don't deserve to get their sacred site? That they're too intoxicated to manage the site properly? That they'll sell it for "firewater" if they get half a chance? Or what, exactly?

This is a classic case of how Native stereotypes have real-world consequences. Wisniewski thinks Indians are drunks, which means they're savage and uncivilized, which somehow disqualifies them from owning or managing the property. There's absolutely no link here; every tribal member could be a drunk and it wouldn't affect their claim. But Wisniewski is willing to go public with his racist insinuation.

For every idiot like him, there must be 10 or 100 who feel the same way but are too smart to say so. "Why are we wasting time on drunken savages?" this thinking goes. "Let the bums sober up and get a job and then we'll consider their claim."

It's racism in action, and it stems from centuries of stereotyping. People believe Indians are savage and uncivilized so they ignore Indians' problems and needs. There's a direct connection and stories like this one prove it.

I'm amazed that some people, including some Indians, don't get this. Why do you think Wisniewski brought up a law enforcement issue at a land-into-trust meeting? He's trying to use America's prejudice against Indians to sink the deal.


Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

Open apology to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal leaders

From the bottom of our hearts, we apologize for the disrespect shown to you by our county leaders. The chairman of the planning board should be immediately dismissed for his ignorant bigoted comments. The commissioners also should be and will be voted out during the next election. Their extreme views do NOT reflect the views of the majority of the citizens of Ravalli County. We are sorry that they have disrespected you under the guise of taking care of the county citizens to the tune of $808 per year. It is shameful, ignorant and deceitful.

Open Suggestion to ALL Ravalli County Citizens: We teach our children that it is NOT OK to stand by while someone is targeted by racism. Now is the time to show them with our actions. Every one of us in Ravalli County should speak out right now. It is NOT OK for our leaders to stand by while the planning board chairman infers that the Tribal Elders are comparable to a bunch of “drunken Indians.” The board of commissioners needs to remove him from his post immediately. Anything less than that is “standing by.”

Rob said...

Apparently the clown did make some half-assed connection between the land proposal and an increase in crime:

Revisiting racism

Ravalli comments leave tribal elders thinking of the past

Later during the same meeting, Ravalli County Planning Board Chair Jan Wisniewski warned commissioners of the CSKT's request, saying that American Indians have a history of using trust lands as a refuge to "get drunk and try and run back into the reservation so they don't get caught," according to meeting minutes.

"The county cannot go into that sovereign nation to apprehend the drunken Indians," he said. "So the jails are full of Indians (sic) which cost us tax dollars. One jail in particular (Havre?) had a count of 58."

Rob said...

Not that losing 58 acres to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes would make the slightest difference in his "fleeing drunks" fantasy.

Clearly, no one else is buying this ridiculous scenario. Everyone recognizes its inherent racism:

Commissioners to apologize to Tribes for racist remarks

The commissioners received quite a bit of correspondence relating to Wisniewski’s remarks. Most, like Lozar, expressed extreme offense at the remarks, calling them “appalling,” “unacceptable” and “racist.” Many called on the commissioners to dismiss Wisniewski from the Planning Board.

Rob said...

Now Wisniewski is out of a job:

Ravalli County Planning Board Chair Loses Seat

Made racist remarks during a meeting between commissioners and members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

HAMILTON — Ravalli County commissioners have declined to reappoint the chairman of the planning board, who made racist remarks during a meeting between commissioners and members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Jan Wisniewski of Darby had applied for another two-year term on the unpaid board, but no commissioners nominated him for the post Thursday. Commissioners did not give a reason.