Reagan Treads Sensitive Turf on Indian Issue

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United Press International

President Reagan said today that the U.S. government perhaps “should not have humored” American Indians by permitting them to live on reservations segregated from the rest of American life.

“We’ve done everything we can to meet their demands on how they want to live,” Reagan said in discussing the Indians’ plight and treading on sensitive historical turf.

Asked by a student at Moscow State University to comment on treatment of Indians, Reagan said many have chosen to leave their reservations and told the students that they would “be surprised” at their success.


“Some of them became very wealthy,” he said, “because some of those reservations were overlaying great pools of oil. And you can get very rich pumping oil.”

‘Insulting ... Dissembling’

“Maybe we made a mistake,” he said. “Maybe we should not have humored them in . . . wanting to stay in that primitive life style. Maybe we should have said: ‘No, come join us. Be citizens along with the rest of us.’ As I say, many have. Many have been very successful.”

In Washington, Suzan Harjo, director of the National Congress of American Indians, said Reagan’s response “was both insulting and dissembling” and called his offer to meet with Indian people “especially disingenuous” since he never had agreed to meetings in the past.

“We find this effort to diminish our rights and needs . . . and to diminish our humanity by indicating that we should have not have been humored is its own best example of why this President will retire with a record as poor as that as General Custer,” she said.

Use of Peltier Case

In responding to the question about Indians, Reagan was drawn into what the Soviets regard as an example of human rights abuses in the United States. U.S. officials dismiss the charges as Soviet propaganda.

With a delegation of Indians in Moscow to dramatize the case of Leonard Peltier, who is in jail for killing two FBI agents, Reagan said he was unaware of their presence, but would “be very happy to see them.”


The Soviets have used the Peltier case to counteract U.S. claims of human rights violations in the Soviet Union.

But U.S. officials have answered the Soviet charges by stressing that Peltier was convicted of murder. They asked what the response in the Soviet Union would be if two KGB agents were murdered.

In his remarks today, Reagan said the Indians were provided “millions of acres of land for what we called preservations, or reservations, I should say,” to live as they desired, undisturbed by the government.

And although many have left their reservations, he said, “some still prefer ... that early way of life.”