Houston Councilman Hears from American Indians

Friday, April 06, 2007 at 11:55 AM

When I'm wrong, I'm big enough to admit it. I received quite a few emails from listeners of American Indian descent regarding some comments I made recently. Those comments were intended to spark a discussion on how we view past transgressions against American Indians as compared to those against Blacks in America. I intended to challenge policies, and not to demean or insult any group of people.

Houston City Councilman Michael BerryThe reason I love hosting a talk radio show is that it gives me an opportunity to share ideas that I have, and to hear from listeners from all walks of life. That exchange, sometimes confrontational, sometimes comical, often informative, and hopefully entertaining, can be magical. While I hope listeners learn from hearing my perspective, I know for sure that I learn from them.

In the course of three hours every morning, I hope that listeners will look at issues in new ways, from different angles. Often I intentionally provoke, in an effort to push listeners to challenge ideas that may be held more by habit than reason.

In so doing, I may say something to a disembodied audience of listeners that I wouldn't say to a person in a face-to-face meeting. I want to make people react, to pierce that veil that prevents our true thoughts from surfacing. Likewise, in the fast-paced spontaneous moment that is radio, I did not consider the full effects of my words.

I read every email I received on the matter, and considered each in turn. Some were threatening, some were insulting, some were angry, some simply politely disagreed. Those, I consider, come with the turf of being a talk show host. I expect that.

What bothered me was that my comments were construed as insulting and demeaning to American Indians. That was not my intention. However, I went back and re-read my comments several times, and I can see how someone might come away with that idea.

Some of the emails, though, pricked my conscience and forced me to think deeply about a number of matters. Most troubling were those I received from veterans of foreign wars who spoke of their love for our country, and their sacrifice and service to America.

I also began learning more about the lives of those who consider themselves Native Americans in modern America. Most don't receive any governmental assistance of any kind, much less welfare. Almost none of them get any special scholarships from the government for their education. What I believed was "governmental" assistance and scholarships is in fact tribal programs from a sovereign Indian nation. I do have two law degrees, but I lacked a good understanding of the Constitutional law on Indian treaties and Congressional action on the matter.

I was simply wrong.

I've decided to make the occasion a learning experience for me, and hopefully others as well. I'll have an American Indian expert guest on the show within the next week to discuss American Indians and answer questions on the matter. If I had misconceptions, perhaps others do, too.

I don't back down from my desire to challenge others to think outside their personal prejudices, habits, misconceptions, and tired ideas. But I apply the same standard to myself as well. Here, I was wrong and I learned from it.

I'm not making this statement because I received heat from people who were offended. I can handle that. I'm making this statement because my method of framing the discussion seemed to attack people rather than policies, and my facts regarding those policies were wrong.

Finally, I don't think that challenging policies of our shared government as they relate to any group of people is insulting to that group or any way racist or hateful. It is a healthy part of making good public policy. What is not healthy, or productive, is hateful speech toward others. I didn't intend to engage in that, but my actions left some American Indians feeling that I did, and I should have been more careful in how I expressed myself. I regret that.

I look forward to hearing from more of you on this, and other, matters, and I'll continue to be open to considering your opinions, as I hope you will be with mine.

Michael Berry is a member of the Houston City Council, the mayor pro tempore, and a radio talk show host on KPRC/950 AM.


Dear Sir;

When I read your first article that was sent to my family I was very disturbed to think that an educated person as yourself and a person in your position would make such statements. But after reading your second piece I can now better understand your motives behind the first article.

I am a Ojibway/Abenaki/French Indian of the North American Metis Nation. I am a Disabled American Veteran. I and most of those that I know do not live in the past, but an article such as your first one was very upsetting to all. First you speak of our people loosing the war. What war? We never attacked anyone and surely never had WMD. Our people were brutally slaughtered for one reason and one reason only, someone wanted a land that was not theirs to take. And when we fought back we were then murdering savages, etc. And you gave us Casinos, which ones were those. All I know is that the few Nations that have Casinos built their own after receiving Governmental and State approval, even though all are Soverign Nations. No one ever complains about Las Vegas or Atlantic City, etc. But what about all that the Casinos give to the states, etc. You were already made aware of the College issue and that funding, and the welfare issue.

The injustices that happened many years ago have not been forgotten, but we have dealt with them over time. It is the issues still pending today that need to be addressed. Why is it that within the media nothing is ever mentioned in regards to our people either being brutally murdered, raped or beatened, like we just don't exist either on reservations, reserves or within mainstream society. But other ethnic groups are mentioned always from the east coast to the west coast. Only an occassional mascot or casino issue will ever hit the papers of T.V. Check out some of the living conditions and unemployment on some of the Navajo and Lakota lands and your eyes will open wide, and others also from coast to coast.

What about proper educational facilities or medical facilities on many reservations or adequate housing or heating. So many things that are in treaties but are never upheld. Just because our people don't riot in the streets does not mean that our culture does not suffer or feel the pain from within. Even though many things still confront us today we will survive, as our land was taken, we have suffered a great deal, but our spirit will always be strong. We have learned how to adapt to survive.

Even though we never started a war, we are the only culture to have lost their land. All other countries that were actually at war at one time or another with America never lost their land or their way of life in any way. War or conflict. This country has even reached out and helped to rebuild most of those countries. Even the injustices that the Black African Americans have suffered, they still continue to have a land of their own where all remains in tact, culture, etc.

I am sorry for going on and on. I just want to say it was good to read your second piece as maybe we both understand each other a little more right now at this point.

Individuals you can speak with or have on your show. Russell Means, Winona LaDuke, the former Senator Ben Nighthorse from Arizona all are excellent speakers and very knowledgeable.

Even a portion of the Constitution derived from the Iroquois Confederacy as the government like the structure of the Nation. We are all loving and caring people, we only ask that our treaties be upheld and to get the respect that the first people of any country gets.

Peace to you and to the Four Directions
Prayers with you and your family

May we all continue to learn through each other, and through those thoughts and ideas maybe changes will come to light for all.

Hawke & Family
Prayers with all and your families

Mr. Berry:
You are still an ass. This lame apology doesn't cut it. You said the words, they're out there...you can't re-write history. Nice try, though.

Mr Berry,

In response to your statements, I find it hard to believe that you are of any indigenous descent, or human at all. I am an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, near full blood as are my children. I would not take it upon myself to degrade a whole race of people who are human and my own people none the less.

As far as not making apologies because of the "heat", I think prompting intellectual discussion and pro active thinking are to be commended, but one should admit that since the overwhelming response to these statements has alerted you to another opinion, just admit you were oblivious, or ignorant, whatever the case may be.

Now, you are going to have Indian "experts", wow, who shoudl we expect? The president? Someone from the local hobbyist association? Me? Someone from East India? I think this expert will be someone that you feel will fill your own opinion of expert, with lots of remedies for indian country who has never lived in Indian country.

I challenge you to find out find out about your own people and who you are first before you decide what is best for the rest of us.

Dumb remarks from a stupid white man. I know that you're a Republican without even checking.