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Senecas are the target of ugly media stereotypes

For the better part of a week, the Seneca Nation has been the subject of a media story of global scale. News outlets from across the state, the country and the world have covered an incident that we all know by now occurred at our Seneca Niagara Casino and involved a New York State senator, his wife and several Seneca Nation citizens.

On Feb. 11, the day after the altercation, I issued a statement expressing my regret over this unfortunate, isolated incident in which the senator's wife was injured. As the facts have emerged, it has become clear that Seneca people were also injured and that none of those involved are blameless for what happened.

In the intervening days, several media outlets have taken this episode and sensationalized the story, reverting to salacious stereotypes, calling the incident a "wild brawl," producing headlines such as, "Indians on the Warpath" and "Indian Whomp-'em," and peppering their stories with other unseemly descriptions of my people.

It is without question an incident in which all parties involved should have used better judgment. But it is hardly a unique occurrence in the annals of human history. The media portrayals have nonetheless taken the story to an unacceptable level, painting the Senecas involved with ugly, broad strokes, and disparaging an entire nation of people.

Big city tabloids may be the greatest offenders, but a local weekly in Buffalo has also established a pattern of anti-Indian sentiments reflecting a willingness to assume the worst about our people, our business enterprises and our nation.

We don't get the benefit of the doubt despite the economic contributions that we make to the local region, the thousands of Western New Yorkers whom we employ at our businesses and the efforts we have made in the past 40 years to rise up out of nearly 200 years of abject poverty forced on us by the confiscation of nearly all of our aboriginal lands.

I would hope that our neighbors, our friends and those in the media who cover our progress would remember that the mistakes of a few do not define the reputation of the many.

No responsible person would think that the actions of the few Americans are indicative of the character of all Americans; the same sentiment should apply to the Seneca people as well.

The Seneca Nation and our 8,000 people have struggled too hard for literally hundreds of years to provide for our own and we don't deserve the assault that has been directed at us in the media.

The Seneca Nation is committed to working together with everyone in Western New York to make our homeland a better, more attractive and prosperous place for our shared benefit. After all we have been through, we don't deserve to be treated like this.


Robert Odawi Porter is president of the Seneca Nation of Indians.