American Indians Criticize Bush’s Silence in Red Lake Shootings

Some American Indian leaders are expressing their outrage that President Bush has not made much of a fuss over the school shooting rampage on the Red Lake Reservation, especially in contrast with his dramatic signing of a special bill for Terri Schiavo’s parents.

Native Americans Criticize Bush’s Silence (WaPo, A6)

Native Americans across the country — including tribal leaders, academics and rank-and-file tribe members — voiced anger and frustration Thursday that President Bush has responded to the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history with silence. Three days after 16-year-old Jeff Weise killed nine members of his Red Lake tribe before taking his own life, grief-stricken American Indians complained that the White House has offered little in the way of sympathy for the tribe situated in the uppermost region of Minnesota.

“From all over the world we are getting letters of condolence, the Red Cross has come, but the so-called Great White Father in Washington hasn’t said or done a thing,” said Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement here. “When people’s children are murdered and others are in the hospital hanging on to life, he should be the first one to offer his condolences. . . . If this was a white community, I don’t think he’d have any problem doing that.”


White House spokesman Scott McClellan, in an informal discussion with reporters Tuesday, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were killed.” “I hope that he would say something,” said Victoria Graves, a cultural educator at Red Lake Elementary School on the reservation. “It’s important that there’s acknowledgment of the tragedy. It’s important he sees the tribes are out here. We need help.”

The reaction to Bush’s silence was particularly bitter given his high-profile, late-night intervention on behalf of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman caught in a legal battle over whether her feeding tube should be reinserted. “The fact that Bush preempted his vacation to say something about Ms. Schiavo and here you have 10 native people gunned down and he can’t take time to speak is very telling,” said David Wilkins, interim chairman of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota and a member of the North Carolina-based Lumbee tribe.

“He has not been real visible in Indian country,” said former senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.). “He’s got a lot of irons in the fire, but this is important.” Even more alarming than Bush’s silence, he said, is the president’s proposal to cut $100 million from several Indian programs next year.

After hearing grumbling from tribal leaders, Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, called the White House on Thursday to inquire about Bush’s silence. “I wanted to make sure the White House is paying attention to this issue,” she said. “I wasn’t sure.”

Asked Thursday about Bush’s silence, spokeswoman Dana Perino said that he plans to dedicate part of his Saturday radio address to the Red Lake tragedy and that he is following the case closely through the FBI and the Justice Department.

In the hours after the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, President Bill Clinton publicly expressed his condolences and followed up a few days later with a radio address in which he proposed new gun control measures and school safety projects.

Do we really expect the president to express his condolences to every murder victim in the country, or to mention every serious crime that takes place? What exactly is he supposed to say here? Columbine fit into Bill Clinton’s gun control agenda as Terri Schiavo fit into Bush’s “sanctity of life” agenda. What public policy position do these murders relate to?

I also don’t see what welfare programs for the reservations has to do with the case, other than that both involve American Indian tribes.

Meanwhile, folks from Columbine, Colorado–who might actually have something meaningful to offer, are reaching out to the Red Lake victims.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. torridjoe says:

    Presidents ALWAYS comment on mass tragedies. Always. His silence is deafening.

  2. JEGjr says:

    “…Terri Schiavo fit into Bush’s ‘sanctity of life’ agenda.”

    With Terri Schiavo, neither President Bush, or anyone else, needed a crystal ball to try to save her life. I’m sure that if God had given him the ability to see into the future, President Bush would have taken the necessary steps to prevent what happened in Minnesota.

  3. tinman says:

    I think it would be better if the Native Americans across the country, including tribal leaders, would focus on the problems of this child, their school, the excessive drug and alcohol use by the nations. Trying to change the subject and alter the focus to the President instead of identifying the real problems has been a stupid ploy from the beginning. Just what are the Elders doing? Maybe getting off their lazy butts, instead of complaining that they didn’t get condolences from a setting President, might be a good start.

  4. Keith says:

    What was Mr. Bush suppose to say, let’s ban more guns??? What we need is more tougher gun laws??? Gun laws is what got the guard, and all the others, killed. Banning guns don’t work. If gun bans/laws work, they didn’t work in Red Lake, MN. If that guard had a gun the only death would have been the deranged boy.

  5. waynco says:

    Just what is the President supposed to say.
    I’m sorry the students picked on the kid badley enough that he would kill his classmates?
    I’m sorry his Grandfather was a cop and had a gun?
    I’m sorry his Dad commited suicide?
    I’m sorry his Mom is a vegitable.
    I’m sorry he did not get the love and attention every child needs?
    If anyone should be sorry it is the school and the students who created the monster. There were so many warnings it is unconcionable the school would ignore them. After all the school shootings in the last 10 years you would think the school would come down hard on any student bullying another. You would think someone drawing pictures of the students dying would ring a bell or 2 in somebodys head. That a student body would even allow somebody to pick on another student after all the shootings tells us they are not really all that bright.
    My rant is over, take it as you will.

  6. otis says:

    The President is supposed to act as such – as the leader of this land. When there is a tragedy on the magnitude of what happened at Red Lake – when five children are MURDERED IN THEIR SCHOOL – it is expected that our leader of our country should act as such and publicly acknowledge the grief of its citizens.

    That’s all – he doesn’t have to make a grand statement, or propose legislation, or anything other than letting those affected know that the thoughts of the nation are with them. It’s tact, and it’s Presidential. The President evidenced this today with his statements regarding Terri Schiavo within hours of her death. As stated earlier – his initial silence regarding Red Lake was deafening.