Native Americans “don’t do very well because of their lack of assimilation,” said GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul on Thursday. After an exchange with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham about what she called “separatist” immigrant communities, Paul’s comment followed.
Ingraham was incredulous that “the MSNBC crowd” supported Jeb Bush’s attribute of speaking Spanish at campaign events. When asked if speaking Spanish was appropriate, Paul changed the subject to Native Americans. “I think assimilation is an amazing thing,” Paul added.
“A good example of how, even in our country, assimilation didn’t happen – and it has been a disaster for the people – has been the Native American population on the reservations. If they were assimilated, within a decade they’d probably be doing as well as the rest of us. But instead, seclusion and isolating them – we took their land, and then we put them all on small quadrants of land.”
The Democratic National Committee said in a press release that Paul revealed a “shocking lack of historical and cultural awareness” about Native people. This cultural awareness refers to broken treaties, forced removal, open warfare and unkept promises as well as the abuse and cultural genocide suffered by Native American children through the boarding school system of the 19th and 20th centuries.
That assimilation policy was designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” Earlier this week, President Obama announced that he was formally restoring the Native name of Denali to the tallest mountain in North America. Official recognition of the Athabascan name was one of the most significant symbolic gestures toward the first peoples in the U.S. in recent memory.
”This last week was a good demonstration of a recognition of First peoples – the rightful restoring of the traditional name of Denali,” said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, an indigenous rights organization. ”Assimilation implies erasing one’s identity and culture – that is not what the America I know stands for. America’s strength comes from its diversity. Native Americans’ strength comes from our connection to place and culture.”