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Custer-Friendly Official Has Backing of Republican National Committee

WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee (RNC) is standing by a top leader with the organization who said that Col. George Armstrong Custer was “dishonored” when New Mexico’s governor met with American Indians earlier this year.

The embattled RNC executive committee member is Pat Rogers, a GOP lobbyist and partner with the Modrall law firm of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He wrote the following words in an e-mail to the staff of Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez in June after her tribal meeting was announced: “The state is going to hell. Col. [Allen] Weh would not have dishonored Col. Custer in this manner.” Weh was a Republican candidate for state governor who ran against Martinez in 2010.

The e-mail, reported on by Indian Country Today Media Network on August 24, was obtained by Independent Source PAC and publicized by ProgressNow New Mexico, both liberal advocacy organizations.

Rogers’ words have since made nationwide headlines, and he has drawn few defenders, although the RNC has ignored calls for his dismissal.

"We disagree with Committeeman Rogers' comments, and he has rightfully apologized for them,” Ted Kwong, a spokesman for the RNC, told ICTMN over the weekend. “We are a big tent party that is focused on speaking to all Americans who want a different direction after nearly four years of deficit spending and failed leadership. We will continue to talk about how to create jobs for the 23 million Americans who are looking for work, despite the desperate efforts by Democrats to make this election about anything but their dismal economic record."

Rogers’ apology came in an August 25 Albuquerque Journalarticle, in which he said he was attempting to be funny: “I made a poor attempt at humor in a private e-mail, and it’s being twisted by a partisan group,” he told the newspaper. “I certainly intended no offense, but I do apologize.”

Many American Indians have not taken Rogers’ words as a joke, and the RNC has not heeded calls for a reprimand. Officials there also did not acknowledge that he has not apologized directly to American Indians.

“He has apologized, no other changes to announce,” Kwong said when pressed on whether Rogers will continue to serve with the RNC. Kwong would not say if Rogers was available for an interview. Rogers has not responded to several requests from ICTMN.

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The apology and the RNC’s reaction have fallen flat in many circles of Indian country.

“Only the geniuses at the Republican National Committee could figure out a way to send out an apology about Native Americans without mentioning Native Americans,” said Chris Stearns, a Navajo lawyer and chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

“It is appalling that one of the leading organizers of the RNC is spewing such garbage,” said Rhonda LeValdo-Gayton, president of the Native American Journalists Association. “I wonder if he even knows that Custer didn't deal with the tribes in New Mexico?”

Rather, Custer battled Indians in Dakota Territory, including Lakota and Cheyenne citizens. He and his troops killed many American Indians during what were historically known as the Indian Wars, and he was killed in 1876 at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

“[T]his country doesn't need someone like Mr. Rogers who appreciated or held in high regard a person who helped carry out the genocide of Native people,” added LeValdo-Gayton, a citizen of the Acoma Pueblo, which is based in New Mexico. “Right now, those tribes in New Mexico contribute to the state economy with their uniqueness that brings in tourists from all over the world.”

LeValdo-Gayton noted that her people were never moved from their land, they never signed a treaty, and they maintained their unique cultures and languages like all the other pueblos, which she said was impressive to even President Abraham Lincoln in his day.

“Mr. Rogers, all our Native nations across this country have a history that you need to fully understand before dishonoring Native people again,” LeValdo-Gayton said.

Officials with the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in New Mexico, have also rebuked Rogers, as has Martinez, whose staff said she is proud of her relationship with New Mexico tribes.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled to take place this week in Tampa, Florida, with Rogers in attendance.