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Planned Native American casino honoring 'Oz' author causes controversy

Native American tribe plans casino named for 'Wizard of Oz' author's work despite his incendiary comments

It sounds like an obvious idea. A Native American tribe is planning to open a casino in Chittenango, N.Y., named in tribute to the one of the most famous people to come from the town: "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" author L. Frank Baum.

However, the plans for the Yellow Brick Road Casino are raising eyebrows among people familiar with two of Baum's newspaper editorials, one of which called for "the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians."

The Washington Post reported that Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter is defending the decision to name the casino after Baum's most famous work. "I think that’s a wonderful message -- that we’re able to overcome by repentance and by forgiveness,” Halbritter told the Post.

Baum's two editorials, which appeared in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer in 1890 and 1891, have been controversial for decades. In the first one, written after the death of Sitting Bull, Baum wrote: "With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them."

The second, written in response to the Wounded Knee massacre, notes: "Having wronged [Native Americans] for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. ... Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past."

Although the casino will have no direct references to Baum, some Native Americans are still unhappy with the decision. The Post quoted Ernestine Chasing Hawk, who is descended from some of the Wounded Knee victims, as writing: "How can they be so ignorant of history and traitors to their own race? Would the Jews build a casino to honor Hitler?"

Halbritter, an outspoken opponent of the Washington Redskins football team name, cited a 2006 apology by two of Baum's descendants as proof that it was time to move on from the author's incendiary editorials.

"We are aware that some people have difficulty separating the good from the bad," he said. "I think we can separate and try to extract the good and focus on the good."

The Yellow Brick Road Casino is scheduled to open this year.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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