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.