Popular conservative website aggregator Matt Drudge is using Thanksgiving 2012 to target Native American students who want to add their perspectives to the American dialogue on what the holiday signifies to them and their tribes and families.
In a top-of-the page headline, titled “’Anti-Thanksgiving' event sparks controversy on campus...,” posted on November 19, Drudge links to a story published on the conservative CampusReform.org website that highlights voices of conservatives who say Native students are wrong for promoting Indian values on Thanksgiving.
The piece largely highlights the concerns of Nicole Bailey, executive-in-chief of the conservative newspaper, The Virginia Advocate, who stands firmly against the plans of a Native American student group at the University of Virginia that decided to hold a potluck dinner where students and speakers would “discuss Thanksgiving from a Native American perspective,” according to the group’s website.
That group, the American Indian Student Union (AISU), was scheduled to hold the potluck on November 19. The event was supposed to illustrate a “contrast…with the typical American view of Thanksgiving,” AISU president Katelyn Krause told the local press.
Many Native American college student groups, tribal organizations, and Indian advocates hold such events yearly around the nation in an effort to remind American society that Indians played an important role in the founding of America, and that Native American perspectives are alive and well.
But Bailey does not see such events as a chance to learn from and about Native Americans; rather, she sees them as an attack on American values.
“They think that by doing events that put down what people understand to be modern American’s realization of the American dream and American story is a way to raise awareness about the less glamorous parts of America’s history,” Bailey told CampusReform.org in the article that was prominently features on The Drudge Report above another story, titled, “Hamas Leader Dares Israel to Invade!”
“That’s frankly not true,” Bailey told the publication.
Such attempts to paint American Indian awareness as somehow anti-American are common in American society, but they sometimes backfire, as was the case for U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., who tried to use her Democratic opponent’s participation in a similar pro-Native Thanksgiving event when he was in college in the 1990s against him in their recent race for a California U.S. House seat.
That Democratic challenger, Raul Ruiz, ended up unseating Bono Mack in a very close race where the number of Native American voters in their district likely played a significant role, political analysts say.
During the height of the Bono Mack frenzy in October, the then-sitting congresswoman placed radio and TV ads suggesting that Ruiz was “attacking Thanksgiving and our American values” because he was arrested as a college student in 1997 during a protest of the Thanksgiving holiday in Plymouth, Massachusetts that was intended to highlight Native American roles in American history and misrepresentations of Indians in contemporary American society.
Bono Mack did not mention that the charges were later dropped and the city posted a plaque to commemorate the event.
Tribes and Indian organizations are widely decrying attempts to politicize support for Indian causes as somehow anti-American.
The National Congress of American Indians issued a statement this fall against hateful words used by outgoing U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s staff to mock Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren’s alleged Native ancestry. And the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians lambasted Bono Mack’s political strategy in particular: “[W]e call on Rep. Bono Mack to unequivocally repudiate this attempt to portray standing up for Native Americans as somehow un-American.” Tribal Council Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe said in October.
The Tribal Association of Sovereign Indian Nations also sent Bono Mack a letter expressing concern: “We certainly understand the rough and tumble nature of political campaigns, and we know that sometimes candidates say things that they later regret,” according to the letter, signed by the organization’s Indian leaders. “As an agent of the federal government, however, you should be working to overcome the wounds of past wrongs done to Indian people, not deepen them…. We sincerely hope that in the closing weeks of this election you steer away from these unworthy and divisive tactics in favor of bringing people together to solve our shared problems not only in your district but throughout our nation.”
With the new attack on American Indian values coming from The Drudge Report, some Native American political observers are saying that conservatives are missing an opportunity to broaden the mission of the Republican Party, which seems to be necessary in light of recent election losses.
Along those lines, the National Museum of the American Indian recently hosted an event focused on the strong relationships President Richard Nixon forged with Indians on self-determination, sovereignty, education, and other issues. Many at that event called for conservatives to take time to study that history and to follow in those footsteps.