Days ago, The New Yorker published an article in which Michigan’s Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson was quoted as saying, “What we’re going to do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.” The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan’s Chief Steven Pego has responded, demanding an apology and Monday morning protestors were demonstrating outside of the Oakland County Courthouse.
Patterson’s’ office has responded to ICTMN and explained Patterson’s remarks were from a statement he made 30 years ago when Patterson was serving as the Oakland County Prosecutor and the remarks were about the less than desirable conditions of Detroit.
Bill Mullan, the Media & Communications Officer for Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson told ICTMN, “He was being critical of the corruption and mismanagement in the City of Detroit.” When Mullan was asked how Patterson’s remarks about Detroit could elicit a statement about an Indian Reservation he told ICTMN:
“I know the connection is not clear because (The New Yorker) article does not have a complete context today or 30 years ago. But, it was part of a conversation about the corrupt political conditions and gross mismanagement in Detroit over the decades. Though he used those words, his statement had nothing to do with the Native American community itself.”
In Pego’s open letter, he criticized Patterson’s remarks as inexcusable while adding criticism to the Detroit News Editor for allowing the Indian Reservation comments to go unchallenged.
“Today I find it inexcusable that there are still individuals who carry hatred and blatant disregard for other cultures and race of people. It is not surprising however that serial offender Brooks Patterson used inflammatory language in talking about people of color. His comparison of the residents of Detroit to Native Americans who were forcibly confined to Indian reservations is shameful,” Pego wrote.
“It goes without saying that Mr. Patterson needs a lesson in civility, regardless of whether he was merely pandering to his base, or purposely inciting racial disharmony. It is surprising, however, and equally troubling to read that comments by the editor of the Detroit News who tacitly approved of Mr. Patterson's offensive characterizations of Indian reservations,” Pego’s letter continued. “I seriously doubt that both Mr. Patterson and Finley have ever even been to an Indian reservation.”
In the letter, Pego along with Rev. Charles Williams II, Michigan chapter president of the National Action Network demanded that Patterson apologize.
In the midst of a group of drum wielding Native Americans who were also joined by protestors from the National Action Network, a civil rights organization led in Detroit by Rev. Williams and founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Patterson did issue a statement regarding his stance on the issue.
“To say that I’m against people of any color is a bunch of crap,” Patterson said. “My critical comments are about decades of corruption and mismanagement in Detroit that has brought Detroit to its knees facing bankruptcy. This is an old shell game where individuals try to shift the blame to others for their own incompetence and mismanagement.
“Meanwhile, my administration is focused on moving Oakland County and the region forward. We have a proven track record of attracting jobs in the knowledge-based economy, maintaining our balanced three-year budget and AAA bond rating, and enhancing the quality of life for our residents,” he said.
According to Mullan, “a lot of individuals may not have the context of the County Executive. He has always been a very upfront and vocal critic over the years regarding the situation in Detroit which has now deteriorated to the point where they have gone into the nation’s largest Municipal bankruptcy.
“He is not saying this because he wants to be mean to Detroit, he is saying it because he wants Detroit to succeed. He does not want to see that corruption exist; he does not want to see that mismanagement exist. Quite frankly he is probably the highest profile critic through these decades of corruption and mismanagement,” Mullen said.
When Mullan was asked if Patterson was comparing the decline of Detroit to the poor living conditions of Native reservations, Mullan said, “I think that that is an appropriate Conclusion to draw. I think he was trying to make a condition comparison.”
When asking if Patterson would apologize Mullan said, “I don't know yet, he apologized back then, but it never was a statement intended to be about Native Americans themselves. It was about the conditions of Detroit and the decades of corruption and mismanagement.”