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Indians as thieves - the Schwarzenegger schtick

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is in his favorite role as terminator when it comes
to American Indians. His recent use of language in his attack on the
California tribes, with which he is charged to negotiate in good faith, is
tantamount to bigotry. A governor should not approach any of his
constituencies with such vulgar disdain for public manners, with a use of
careless (or perhaps intended) language that demeans a whole people and
ethnicity.

For instance, a governor or any public figure, should refrain from calling
a whole people thieves as in, "the Indians are ripping us off." Said
Schwarzenegger on Oct.14: "The Indians are ripping us off. We want them to
negotiate and pay their fair share." Rip-off in our dictionary is
synonymous with "thieving" as in, "the Indians are stealing from us," to
paraphrase the governor of California. Schwarzenegger's chosen words hyped
up a non-Indian audience in San Diego, not far from where a couple of
small, courageous tribes have challenged Californians to support a more
equitable approach to the state "taxation" of tribal income from gaming
enterprises.

This kind of inappropriate speech by a governor is just not acceptable in
American public life, unless of course, you are attacking the smallest and
most downtrodden culture of people in the state. Perhaps the mainstream
media may not be alarmed by such negative racialist suggestions, we
certainly are. Arnold, whose own ethnic and family origins must be examined
for clues of character and value formation, should be much more careful. He
is certainly the darling of the celebrity-mad crowd in national media life,
but the blunt hostility behind the toothy smile of the terminator betrays a
nasty anti-Indian streak that borders on the extreme.

The so-called "rip-off" Schwarzenegger rails against is Proposition 70, the
initiative launched by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm
Springs and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in San Bernardino, and
which cleverly posits that Indian tribal enterprises, all things being
equal, should share with the state of California approximately the same
percentage of tax paid by other corporations (currently 8.84 percent). It
would invoke this basis for tribal compacts with California and lock this
arrangement in for the long term. What could be more fair than that? Well,
that precisely is the problem.

Schwarzenegger is livid about this simple yet very intelligently-positioned
proposition because it makes obvious the unfairness of his constant claim
that Indians are "not paying their fair share." Or worse yet, as his
mounting attacks are mouthing: "The Indians are ripping us off."
Schwarzenegger is intent on taxing Indians higher than corporations doing
business in the state while simultaneously portraying them to California
voters as cheats and liars. In this respect, Schwarzenegger has adopted
this most unsavory American tradition, one with which Indians are more than
familiar. Blame the Indians for their inherent rights of existence while
laying claim to everything they own, including their lands, their
economies, even their lives.

California's history of genocide directed at its original peoples is truly
disturbing. Perhaps the Austrian immigrant turned bodybuilder turned movie
star turned politician might learn something from picking up a book or two
on the subject. If he did he might learn that some 73 million plus acres of
ancestral property has been stolen from California Indians. In 1769 the
Native population of California was estimated at 300,000. Between the years
1848 and 1868 alone some 100,000 Indians died in a horrific genocidal purge
at the hands of California settlers. Perhaps the "governator" could learn
something from documented stories about white settlers at Round Valley who
formed "hunting parties" that would routinely kill 50 to 60 Indians per
trip. Such trips occurred up to three times per week and lasted for five
years according to accounts by Dryden Laycock, one of the Round Valley
settlers. (Suggestion: To learn more read "A Little Matter of Genocide", by
Ward Churchill, which provides an excerpt from a study of the extermination
of the Indians of northern California, and "Fair Share: An Historical
Sketch of the Native Peoples of California", by Steven Newcomb in Native
Americas, Winter 2003).

Of course none of this dissuaded the governor from bending language to suit
his insult. He went on to call California's 104 federally recognized
tribes, the original self-governing peoples and societies of the land,
"powerful special interests." He adds: "They pay off the Congress. They
make billions, and they don't pay their fair share." Defeating Proposition
70 is Schwarzenegger's number one priority this election. "It is tremendous
greed," Schwarzenegger told columnist George Skelton. "They want to rip off
the people ... Pull the wool over people's eyes."

Schwarzenegger misleads by arguing against the tribal proposition (70) in
the same breath as against a non-Indian proposition (68) that would have
expanded locales for gaming (30,000 slot machines at five racetracks; 11
card rooms in Los Angeles and other towns). Proposition 68 proponents have
now stopped activity on their bid, but Schwarzenegger attacks the Indian
prop with the same argument. "They would allow casinos to spread like
wildfire everywhere in California, including our cities and towns," he
assails. He wants to, he says, "terminate" Proposition 70 - which he calls
"a jackpot for special interests and a bust for California." The governor
of California appears oblivious what a loaded term "termination" is for
Indian country. Perhaps the terminator governor is aptly named for his
fight of preference, beating up on Indian tribes just now recovering from
150 years of outright genocide and wanton theft of lands and resources. The
"special interests" refers to Indians. We know what "termination" means.

Consider again the words: "The Indians are ripping us off." We would ask
Schwarzenegger: Just who is the "us" in his assertion. Are not the 104
tribes of California, half of which are in active economic recovery via
gaming and other enterprises, as much the constituency of a California
governor as any other entity within his state? More brazenly: When you say
"Indians," are you not damning all people of that race or ethnicity into
your assertion that they are "rip-offs." Precisely about which Indians is
the governor referring? This is at best careless use of language; at worst,
an intended slur, meant to caricature an ethnic group. It would represent a
simple insult, to be cleared with an apology, except, regrettably, it seems
to represent a deep-seated position of hostility and an assumption of
ownership over Indian assets that the governor should deeply re-examine.

If the tribes don't watch it, the anti-Indian movement will gain a powerful
national spokesman in Arnold Schwarzenegger; conversely, if he does not
reconsider his approach, Schwarzenegger will cultivate an anti-Indian image
that will not enhance his reputation. The terminator governor, with his
larger-than-life superstar status, is trying too hard to get away with
borderline and outright prejudicial statements and is pressing a very
antagonistic approach to tribal peoples. Words from public officials carry
consequences that often impel the public toward belief and action. And we
take the governor at his word. Although he grew up in a home in which his
father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, was a member of the Sturmabteilung, or SA,
better known as Nazi storm troopers, we believe him when he says he does
not share the hatred that spewed forth from that evil movement, a hatred
that lay the ills of Germany, real or perceived, largely at the feet of the
Jewish people. But are American Indians now the root or cause of
California's financial ills? Hardly.

The tribal peoples of California, however, could just as well be of one of
the governor's partnership constituencies. Instead of browbeating and
insulting the Native nations of California, why not work more closely with
the new Native powerhouses, by approaching them respectfully as: 1) local
and regional job creation rotors; 2) economic development zones that
stimulate capital flow. Why attempt to gouge the tribes for more than what
is fair by forcing them to forfeit twice or more than is demanded of
corporations in the state? The tribes, after all, must cover a range of
governmental responsibilities including health, social and educational
services for their members. Regular California businesses have no such
obligations.

These days, however, if you insult a particular race or ethnic group, and
the particular group complains, they stand accused of playing "the race
card." Never mind how craven the insult, the focus becomes how the offended
reacts and not the reality of the complaint. Proposition 70, in fact, is in
an uphill battle, considering its virulent enemies, but its premise needs
continued exploration and support. Just why Indian enterprises,
particularly given their responsibility for many governmental services,
should pay to the state double or more what other business corporations
pay, is not at all clear. Different tribes and tribal coalitions will
approach their compact negotiations differently. A variety of strategies
will emerge. Outcomes will be diverse. But one thing is highly dangerous:
Ethnic insult, based in bigotry. This is intolerable. Schwarzenegger, of
all people, should know better.