Houston councilman makes offensive remarks on radio


By Mead Gruver -- Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Houston resident Cheryl Melendez, Cree, had just dropped her kids off at school and was listening to one of her city councilmen on her car radio when she heard something that floored her.

Councilman Michael Berry was saying American Indians don't deserve the federal assistance that they're getting because they ''were whipped in a war.''

''We conquered them,'' he said. ''That's history. Hello?''

The March 27 remarks on the Michael Berry Show - archived online and available for anyone to hear - have sent shock waves through Indian country. They've been a hot topic on Indianz.com and on another Houston radio show, one about Indian culture.

What Berry said was especially galling for Melendez and her husband, Steve, who have dedicated themselves to teaching the real story about being ''whipped.'' They're the co-founders of the American Indian Genocide Museum in Houston.

''My only question was, 'was Sand Creek and Wounded Knee a war?''' Cheryl Melendez said April 4, referring to the slaughter of more than 163 Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek, Colo., in 1864 and of some 300 Sioux at Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1890.

''You want to believe that things are changing. You want to believe the best in people. And then, wham, something like this happens,'' Melendez said. ''I guess it kind of just takes your breath away and leaves you disappointed.''

Besides being an at-large councilman, Berry is Houston's mayor pro tem, meaning that he fills in for certain duties when Mayor Bill White isn't available. Berry did not return messages left April 4 by The Associated Press.

The Michael Berry Show airs weekdays on KPRC 950-AM in Houston. A message left for station officials seeking comment also wasn't returned April 4.

Berry made the remark while speaking out against a proposal in the Texas Legislature for the state to apologize for slavery.

''If we're not going to apologize for slavery, then we need to stop the continuous apology for what was done to the American Indians,'' he said.

Berry said the federal government in effect apologizes to American Indians every day by expending ''incredible resources from our treasury.''

''We continue to give land,'' he said, without elaborating.

He said the government had given tribes the right to print money.

''Which is also known as a casino,'' he said. ''Why are we still doing that?''

And he said he was qualified to say such things because he has Indian blood.

''If you're against apologizing for slavery, then you've got to be against giving welfare to the American Indians because of the fact that 200 years ago they were whipped in a war. And let's just call it what it is. They lost a war,'' he said.

''Why don't we go hand the Germans a few million dollars, and the Italians, and the Japanese? OK, so we did rebuild their country. We don't continue to give them aid because they sit around whining about a war from 200 years ago. Are you kidding me? Seriously.''

Steve Melendez said that the second elected president of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, declared an ''extermination war'' against Indians.

''Here in Texas, the war that was taking place 200 years ago was a war of genocide,'' he said.

He said newspapers of the day advertised Indian scalps selling for $200. To this day, he said, there aren't many Indians to be found in Texas compared to other states.

''That was one of the strange things that happened to me when I came from Nevada to Houston. There were no Indians,'' said Melendez, who identified himself as Paiute.

Jacquelyn Battise, host of the weekly Houston community radio show People of Earth, which focuses on Indian culture, said she read some of Berry's remarks on the air.

She got a lot of calls and e-mails in response.

''It's ignorant, some of the remarks that he made about casinos,'' she said. ''It just shows, I guess, a real disconnection.''

She said there was talk about circulating a petition to counter some of the remarks.

H. Mathew Barkhausen III, a media specialist for the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center and a freelance writer based in Denver, got word of the radio show through a chain of e-mails.

''It's really frustrating to me, for example the casino issue, when people make sweeping moral judgments about something they obviously know nothing about,'' Barkhausen said.

He said Berry ''obviously doesn't know anything about the Indian gaming act.''

''For some reason, there's a ridiculous assumption that the 500-some-odd recognized tribes in the United States have become wealthy through casino money, and that's not the case,'' he said.

Part Tuscarora and part Cherokee, Barkhausen also questioned the notion that American Indians had been ''whipped.''

''The Indian wars never ended, they just changed format,'' he said. ''They're battles that are fought in the courtroom.''