New York City: Native Americans are demanding that Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologize for “racist” comments made during an August 13 radio program. The mayor joked that Gov. David Paterson should get “a cowboy hat and a shotgun” to stop them from selling untaxed cigarettes on their reservations.
Bloomberg’s words drew outrage from Native American groups. They said his remarks were deeply insensitive and "a promotion of violence" against their tribes.
"I think it's appalling. I think it's downright racist what this mayor has said," said Lance Gumbs, Shinnecock, a vice president of the National Congress of American Indians. "In one breath you're talking about social tolerance and the Muslims being able to do this at Ground Zero, and in the next he's attacking the native people."
George Stonefish, 52, a Delaware Chippewa who lives in Brooklyn, said Bloomberg should sit down with the group to discuss their concerns.
"Mayor Bloomberg, you must smother the embers of violence and ignorance," he said.
The mayor's office declined to comment or offer an apology. But their spokesperson issued a statement that “[t]he Supreme Court has ruled several times that Tribes simply have no right to hurt competing small businesses and taxpayers by ignoring taxes owed on cigarettes sold to others."
Bloomberg said that federal courts have denied appeals by Long Island's Poospatuck Indian reservation to resume cigarette sales.
Native Americans may purchase and sell tax-free cigarettes for their own use on reservations, but they may not sell them outside.
But Kandice Watson said the rally had nothing to do with cigarettes or taxes. "This is about our future," she said. "It is about sovereignty, and we will stand to defend that."