American Indian leaders have denounced as "hypocritical and racist" comments by President Reagan, who has led a crusade for human rights in the Soviet Union during the superpower summit.
The president, whose rights agenda has annoyed his Moscow hosts, came under attack on Tuesday for human rights abuses at home after he remarked on the "primitive lifestyle" of American Indians.Reagan was responding to a student question at Moscow University, when he suggested that many American Indians got rich on oil profits and that others chose to remain second-class Americans by staying on reservations.
Dennis Jennings, staff member of the International Indian Treaty Council, told Reuters in a telephone interview from his San Francisco office that Indians disputed Reagan's suggestion of oil-rich, intentionally backward Indians.
"That's a hypocritical lie. There were tens of thousands of Indians who died in the face of European expansionism and other political programs of the United States," he said.
He called Reagan's comments, made a day after he told Soviet dissidents Moscow was lagging in respect for human rights, "completely hypocritical and racist."
"I think that he has really revealed himself in all his ignorance and all his arrogance for the whole world to see," said Suzan Harjo, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians.
"He's insulted our traditional, cultural and religious ways by referring to them as primitive lifestyles," Harjo told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"Indian people have tried to meet with this president for almost eight years," Harjo added. "This president refused to meet with Indian leadership; he lied about that."
After describing U.S. programs for education and welfare services for native Americans, Reagan said, "Maybe we've made a mistake. "Maybe we should not have humored their wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle. Maybe we should have said: `No, come join us. Be citizens along with the rest of us.' "