The director of UCLA's American Indian Studies Center said Tuesday that President Reagan is "ignorant" about native Americans and blamed his Administration for failing to improve Indians' economic status.
John Red Horse said Reagan's remark at last week's Moscow summit that Indians "can get very rich pumping oil" was an unfair characterization of native Americans, who as a group earn less than half the national average income.
"It's easy to comment that American Indians are wealthy and being preserved, as President Reagan did," said Red Horse, a member of the Cherokee tribe. "Indians are wealthy in culture and tradition. But they are preserved by being pickled in conditions of poverty."
Red Horse, who spoke at a press conference called by the Indian Studies Center, said the Administration has cut the number of housing starts on Indian reservations by more than two-thirds since 1983.
"The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of the Interior have failed to protect Indians," he said. "The outcome of this is that we are in an economically deplorable state."
1984 Study Cited
Red Horse cited a 1984 study by the Presidential Commission on Indian Reservation Economies which showed 30% of native Americans living below poverty level--more than twice the national average--and unemployment levels up to 80% on some reservations.
James Riding In, a Pawnee Indian and UCLA graduate student, said an estimated 40% of the Los Angeles Indian population are unemployed, according to census data. Los Angeles has the largest urban Indian population in the United States, Riding In said, with an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 living here.
"Though many have gained a degree of economic security, most Indians have not," Riding In said. "Contrary to Reagan's insidious assertion, there are very few oil-rich Indians."
Drew Ryce, a Mohawk Indian, said Reagan's comments in Moscow suggest that native Americans should give up their traditions and join the mainstream culture.
"What Mr. Reagan is really suggesting is that we put an arm around our children and say, 'Look around you, son. Someday, none of this will be yours,' " Ryce said. "We're not inclined to do that. We see what's waiting for us if we leave our traditions. The only openings are at the bottom of a rigid social structure, of which Mr. Reagan happens to be at the top.
"We would be vying with two blacks and three Mexicans for the last part-time job at McDonald's," Ryce said.
The American Indian Studies Center is a research organization on the UCLA campus that gathers data on Indian life styles and promotes scholarship opportunities for native Americans.