In 1997, Raul Ruiz, a 25-year-old Harvard medical student, participated in the annual Thanksgiving Day protest in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), a group comprised mostly of non-Natives, according to Russell M. Peters, first Tribal Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. The protest, called “The National Day of Mourning,” is an event that marks the continued misrepresentation of Native Americans during colonial times.
Things got out of hand, and in a sudden turn of events, the police handcuffed Ruiz and dragged him off to jail with a handful of other protestors.
Fifteen years later, that incident is rearing its ugly head for Ruiz, now a 40-year-old emergency medicine physician at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, who is running against Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack for her 36th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, a post she has held for 14 years.
Bono Mack has taken to the airwaves with a pointed attack against Ruiz for his arrest back in 1997, portraying him as “one of the most far-left candidates to ever seek a Congressional office.” In an interview with The Desert Sun, Bono Mack said, “He led protests against the celebration of Thanksgiving, no joke … because he opposes what Thanksgiving stands for and what it represents. He even called for the smashing of Plymouth Rock a symbol of American freedom.”
The Ruiz camp says the congresswoman is worried about losing the race because she is so out of touch with her constituents. “The campaign has gotten very nasty and has turned into a character assassination,” said Kyle Layman, the 30-year-old campaign manager for Ruiz, who has never run for public office before. He claims Dr. Ruiz is a problem-solving citizen candidate who has done a lot of work for the Coachella Valley community. “The congresswoman is very, very determined to keep her job, and she is willing to do anything necessary to make that happen.”
In an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, Dr. Ruiz said the Bono Mack campaign isn’t telling the whole story:
So, what really happened that day?
There was a peaceful march to commemorate Native American history. We were in the street and the police asked us to move to the sidewalk. I was moving children and ladies to the sidewalk. When everyone was on the sidewalk, Sam Sapiel, a 66-year-old Penobscot elder, went into the street to tell everyone to calm down and stay on the sidewalk. I heard police say, “Get that man!” and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to Sam, so I shielded him with my body and Wesley Ray Thomas shielded him on the other side to protect him from being beaten. I was thrown to the ground and beaten and handcuffed. Then they pepper-sprayed me and I got arrested.
Why did they pepper-spray you? Were you resisting?
Nope I was not. I was handcuffed already.
You’re not a Native American. Why were you there to begin with?
Because I really believe in our Native American history. They are our first Americans and we owe them a lot of respect, and I wanted to express my pride in our Native American past.
What was the outcome?
What ultimately happened is that the city of Plymouth dropped all charges and paid $100,000 into a Native American scholarship fund. They also erected two plaques in Plymouth commemorating the event and Native American heritage. They respected the demonstration and allowed it to continue indefinitely.
Why did the police change their tune and make reparations?
I think they were concerned about the accusations of police brutality. We agreed to sign a form saying that we won’t make any statements about police brutality and in return, they helped promote the spirit of the demonstrations.
Any regrets that you protested at the rally?
No, I don’t have any regrets for standing up for Sam, an elder. I stood up for Sam then, and I’ll stand up for Native Americans today, and our seniors, middle class and students.
Bono Mack has accused you of being a militant. How do you respond to that?
One of the valuable lessons I learned from these experiences as a student is that we can be more effective with conversation rather than confrontation. That’s something I carry with me today in my personal life and in my problem-solving.
How are you fighting back?
By telling the truth. The truth of what happened and that we need to respect our Native American heritage and honor their contribution to the American story.
NOTE: Campaign officials for Congresswoman Bono Mack have not returned phone calls from our reporter for a response.