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'A deal with the devil'

Indian group partners with radio owner that broadcast racist remarks

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina's Commission of Indian Affairs has taken preliminary steps to partner with Clear Channel Communications, the owner of a controversial radio station in the state that recently aired racist comments about American Indians.

The partnership, according to leaders with the commission, will call on Clear Channel to air public service announcements and incorporate staff sensitivity training. Also part of the deal includes an agreement that the station never again air derogatory remarks about Natives. Commission members are expected to vote June 6 on whether to ratify the agreement.

It remains to be seen how much the partnership will translate to in terms of actual financial costs for Clear Channel. And the length of the partnership is still up in the air.

''I can't tell you that any of us are all that happy about where we are at this point,'' said Greg Richardson, executive director of the state-sanctioned commission, which was founded in 1971 to support and advocate on behalf of Indian issues. ''But do we set a course for continuing battle, or do we try to get something out of it that will benefit [American Indians]?''

Many tribal leaders and individual Natives in the state believe that the commission should be pushing harder to have the controversial program, aired weekdays on WDCG, canceled and its host fired.

In a segment broadcast from Raleigh on G105's ''Showgram'' program April 1, host Bob Dumas labeled Indians as ''lazy,'' said Lumbees are ''inbred'' and referenced Pocahontas as ''Poca-ho-tas'' and Sacajawea as ''Sacacooter.'' Stereotypical statements about reservations, cultural ceremonies and tribal enterprises were also made.

The comments sparked boycotts, corporate sponsorship pull-outs, and immediate calls for cancellation from several Indian leaders. Clear Channel ultimately decided against taking such action, telling commission leaders and others that it was not fiscally possible, given Dumas' apparent popularity as a shock jock. Both Dumas and station manager Dick Harlow subsequently apologized for the remarks. Neither one responded to requests for comment.

The idea of partnering with a company that has long supported controversial on-air race-baiting in an effort to drive up Clear Channel station ratings across the country is preposterous to some Indians who've closely followed the current situation.

''It really is, in effect, a deal with the devil,'' said Beth Jacobs, a member of the Lumbee Tribe who directs Brown Babies Inc., an advocacy group for children living in poor communities. ''A lot of us are disappointed that the commission leadership is not reflecting what the people want.''

Jacobs is reticent about the commission's decision to seek a financial deal with the company.

''There's not enough money in the world to take back what Bob Dumas said,'' she said.

There have also been murmurs that Clear Channel is promising commission leaders that it will help get the Lumbee Tribe federally recognized as a sovereign Indian nation via the company's rich lobbying branch. The tribe is currently only recognized by the state, although legislation is moving in the U.S. Senate to get federal recognition.

''I think it's ridiculous,'' Jacobs said, regarding the federal recognition issue. ''Some of the very things that were said on the radio broadcast are the same inherent stereotypes about Lumbees that have prevented us from being recognized as a tribe. This is so disingenuous to me.''

The activist said her goal is to advocate for racist statements to not be broadcast over public airwaves. She and other Natives are still petitioning G105 sponsors to pull their support from the station. They believe putting financial pressure on the station could ultimately lead to Dumas' firing.

American Indian groups are also partnering with Hispanic organizations in the state, since racist comments about Hispanics were also recently aired on the station.

Many commission leaders are sympathetic to concerns like those raised by Jacobs.

''Ideally, Clear Channel would have indeed removed the program,'' Richardson, Haliwa-Saponi, said. ''But when they told us they wouldn't do that, we explored other possibilities for going forward.''

Commissioner Brett Locklear believes that because select leaders with the commission have worked behind closed doors with Clear Channel to come up with plans, many American Indians in the state could grow upset. He said the process of coming to an agreement should be more transparent.

''There is a philosophy, I think, that has been established by Clear Channel, condoning racial slurs and hate messaging,'' Locklear said. ''For the commission to go into a contract with them, under the auspices that they will not say anything else negative about Indian people, makes it sound as if it's OK for us to condone the continuation of stereotypes against other groups of people.''

Locklear said he is not signing off on any agreements unless Dumas is fired. He also said the final agreement must have language saying that racial slurs against any group will not be condoned on Clear Channel airwaves.

''If Bob is fired, I'm quite sure he'll be snatched up by another station,'' Locklear said. ''But at least Indian folks will have made our stand - and we will not have reneged on what we wanted in the first place.''

Despite the concerns, Richardson and other commission leaders believe that getting a signed, legally binding agreement is a positive solution. He said that if Clear Channel were to choose not to live up to its end of the bargain, the commission would then have the right to pursue litigation.

''If they slip up,'' Richardson said, ''we're back to square one.''

A podcast of Dumas' remarks are available online at www.lumbeetribe.com/images/Sounds/TUE01.mp3.