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Indians Don’t Take Kindly to Reagan Comment

June 2, 1988

BAYFIELD, Wis. (AP) _ President Reagan’s statement that Indians were given reservations to ″humor″ them undermines U.S. criticism of the way the Soviets treat their minorities, an Indian businessman said.

″It’s just another one of his scary remarks, another in a long series of political and mental lapses,″ Walter Bressette, a Chippewa Indian, said Wednesday.

″It belies a real lack of any understanding of American history,″ said James Schlender, executive administrator of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Reagan, in remarks to Soviet university students during the Moscow summit, said ″maybe we made a mistake″ in trying to maintain Indian cultures.

″Maybe we should not have humored them in that, wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle. Maybe we should have said, ’No, come join us. Be citizens along with the rest of us,‴ Reagan said.

″If we were just being humored, the joke’s on you. Give us our land back,″ Schlender said.

Schlender said Reagan’s remark focused world attention on treatment of Indians in the United States. ″Americans are being judged in the court of world opinion on how fairly they treat minorities,″ Schlender said.

Reagan’s statement ran counter to U.S. arguments that Soviet minorities such as Jews and Armenians deserve their own identities, said Bressette, a leader in picketing last year by the Lake Superior Green Party in support of treaty rights to hunt and fish in northern lakes and woods.

The official U.S. policy toward Indians recognizes and affirms tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, Schlender and Bressette noted.

″It’s just one more for the Gipper,″ said Truman Lowe, University of Wisconsin art professor and former director of UW-Madison Native American studies.

Jim Thunder, a former Potawatomi tribal chief who has been active in Indian affairs, said the United States has been trying for years to make Indians part of the American culture by stamping out their religion, language and customs.

″Indians prefer to live among one another and to practice our own religion,″ said Thunder, of Madison.

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