Indian Country Today

New York — CNN is cutting ties with former Republican senator and current TV analyst Rick Santorum over disparaging comments he made about Native American culture.

On CNN, Santorum was a senior political commentator who was often tasked with giving the Republican point of view during campaign coverage. His parting ways with the network was confirmed Saturday by Alison Rudnick, vice president of HLN Communications and CNN Diversity and Inclusion.

He sparked controversy in an April 23 speech before the Young America's Foundation, a conservative youth organization. Santorum said immigrants created a nation based on the Judeo-Christian ethic from a blank slate.

"We birthed a nation from nothing," he said. "Yes, there were Native Americans, but there isn't much Native American culture in American culture."

Last month the Native American Journalist Association called on CNN to fire Santorum. 

The association also "strongly cautions Native American and Alaska Native reporters from working with, or applying to jobs, at CNN in the wake of continued racist comments and insensitive reporting directed at Indigenous people." 

There are no Native Americans working as on air reporters at CNN or any other major network. That includes regular commentators and other on-air positions.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is managing editor of Indian Country Today and a board member for NAJA. She tweeted: "I’m doing this job and what I love because those who came before me fought tooth and nail to make sure I could. I work for an Indigenous-led newsroom because I’ve had to work with white editors who didn’t see value in our stories."

Rep. Kaniela Ing, D-Hawaii, also tweeted about the importance of on air representation. "Thousands of powerful Native leaders deserve a mainstream platform, but Native journalists represent less than one half of one percent of US newsroom staff. Absolute perfect timing for @CNN to hire its first ever Native commentators." Ing is Native Hawaiian.

During its live Election Night coverage in November, CNN labeled Native American voters as “something else.” When asked by NAJA to issue an apology, CNN refused. 

The comment prompted Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, to call him "an unhinged and embarrassing racist who disgraces CNN and any other media company that provides him a platform."

"To correct the record, what European colonizers found in the Americas were thousands of complex, sophisticated, and sovereign tribal nations, each with millennia of distinct cultural, spiritual and technological development," she wrote in a statement. 

Sharp emphasized the importance of partnerships with American Indian tribes, journalists, and media to develop creative solutions that address inaccurate portrayals of Indigenous peoples and Native erasure in the media. 

Santorum later said on Chris Cuomo's CNN show that he "misspoke" in the sense that it wasn't clear that he was speaking in the context of the founding of the United States government.

"People say I'm trying to dismiss what happened to the Native Americans," he said. "Far from it. The way we treated Native Americans was horrific. It goes against every bone and everything I've ever fought for as a leader in the Congress."

Santorum's comments have garnered blowback before, especially his views on gay marriage and homosexuality. In 2003, he infuriated gay rights advocates by appearing to compare homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality 

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.