Deb Haaland: 'Unfortunate' That Rick Santorum Doesn't Know Native American History

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·Senior Politics Reporter, HuffPost
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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Tuesday that it is “unfortunate” former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) recently claimed that “nothing” was in America before white colonizers arrived and that Native Americans haven’t done much for American culture anyway.

“Of course it’s unfortunate,” Haaland, the nation’s first-ever Indigenous Cabinet secretary, told HuffPost in a Zoom interview, which you can watch above.

“It’s unfortunate that, first of all, that perhaps we haven’t done a good job of educating Americans about Indian history, because Native American history truly is American history,” she said. “When we think about the influence that Native Americans have had on the forming of the United States, right? The U.S. Constitution is based on the Iroquois Confederacy. Native Americans from some tribes here in this country have some of the oldest democracies in the world.”

Haaland was responding to a question about offensive comments made late last month by Santorum, currently a CNN senior political commentator.

“We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here,” he said during remarks at an event with young conservatives. “I mean, yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly, there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

Haaland offered to give Santorum some book recommendations to help him understand the actual history of Native Americans, who had been living in America thousands of years before European explorers showed up in the late 1400s and 1500s. Indigenous people already had their own rich cultures and traditions, and as Haaland referenced, the very foundation of the United States and its system of representative democracy stems from a political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations, founded in 1142.

The Senate even paid tribute to the Iroquois with a 1988 resolution stating: “The confederation of the original 13 colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself.”

European colonizers tried to eradicate Indigenous people by forcibly removing them from their lands, slaughtering them, infecting them with new diseases, rounding them up and putting them on reservations, breaking treaties with them and taking their children from them and putting them into boarding schools to assimilate them into white culture.

“I mean, I could probably suggest a few pieces of reading for the senator that would, you know, help him to branch out on his knowledge of American history,” Haaland said of Santorum. “Hopefully, he’ll take a second look.”

Asked for specific books to suggest to Santorum, Haaland said there were too many to pick from and that she would get back to HuffPost.

Indigenous-led groups have been demanding that CNN fire Santorum over his remarks. The president of the National Congress of American Indians, Fawn Johnson, issued a particularly fiery statement, saying Santorum is an “unhinged and embarrassing racist who disgraces CNN” and calling on the media outlet to fire him.

“Make your choice. Do you stand with White Supremacists justifying Native American genocide, or do you stand with Native Americans?” asked Johnson.

CNN has not responded to multiple requests for comment about whether it plans to keep Santorum on contract.

But Santorum was back on the network on Monday night as a guest on Chris Cuomo’s show. Asked about his comments about Native American people, he did not apologize. He said his comments were “out of context.”

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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