In late July two Native American tribes rose up and did the unexpected: put principle over profit and cancelled concerts by washed-up rocker racist Ted Nugent at Tribally-owned casinos. First up were the Coeur d’Alene, which pulled the plug on an August 4 Nugent show scheduled for the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel in Worley, Idaho; four days later the Puyallup Tribe cancelled Nugent concerts booked for its Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, WA. Both tribes cited the repugnant Nugent’s “racist and hate-filled remarks” as the catalyst for their decision to show him the door before they even opened it. The Emerald Queen is on record as saying it will honor Nugent’s contract and pay him the agreed-upon fee, and presumably the Coeur d’Alene will do likewise. In effect this means the two venues would be paying the boorish axeman not to play. This is possibly the best news in the music world since The Simpsons mercilessly mocked U2’s “spontaneous” rooftop concert in L.A. by showing a limo pulling up on the street below, a widow rolling down and George Harrison poking his head out to say, “It’s been done before.”
John Weymer, spokesman for the Puyallup Tribe that operates the Emerald Queen Casino, told the Seattle Times of the tribal councils concerns “about the racial remarks that Mr. Nugent had made recently and decided they didn’t want their venue used to promote his racism.”
“We’re a reservation, we grew up with racism on a daily basis,” Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud added. “How can we allow that to go on in our casino?”
The Seattle Times pointed out that Nugent had been performing at the Emerald Queen for nine years, “but with the calls and emails pouring in over the last few weeks demanding that the casino drop the outspoken rocker from their calendar, the Emerald Queen decided to do so.”
The Emerald Queen is obligated to fulfill its contract with Nugent and pay for both shows, and all ticket holders will be reimbursed, the Times reported.
The Coeur d’Alence cancellation came on the heels of an article published by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog on Monday morning. Hatewatch contacted Heather Keen, a public relations official for the tribe, who seemed to be caught off guard by the news that Nugent had been booked. “I’m going to have to check and see what happened here,” she said. “Obviously, something may have fallen through the cracks.”
Later in the day, Keen said in a statement, “Reviewing scheduled acts is not something in which Tribal Council or the tribal government participates; however, if it had been up to Tribal Council this act would have never been booked.”
The Hatewatch article quotes former tribal council member John Abraham, who also has served on the Kootenai County Human Rights Task Force, saying the booking of Nugent surprised him. “I had no idea about this guy’s background and it’s really something.”
Christina Crawford, who worked for seven years as the tribe’s manager of entertainment and special events, told Hatewatch she was astounded when she was told Nugent would be appearing at the Coeur d’Alene Casino. Crawford was a founder of a human rights task force in Benewah County, where the casino is located.
“Never ever would I have booked that kind of racist at the casino,” Crawford told Hatewatch. “I find this astonishing.”
Then, Monday evening, Keen announced the concert was being canceled, after “Nugent’s history of racist and hate-filled remarks was brought to Tribal Council’s attention earlier today.” Tribal Chief Allan added that “We know what it’s like to be the target of hateful messages and we would never want perpetuate hate in any way.”
Indeed, as Hatewatch pointed out, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe “has a long record of involvement in human rights issues and they understand clearly what harm prejudice can do. Maybe someone just booked him as a rock-and-roll act and paid no attention to his other issues.”
“It’s so destructive for the tribe,” Crawford told Hatewatch.
The racist remarks most often cited are jabs at President Obama, which include calling him a “subhuman mongrel” and a “chimpanzee.” But Nugent’s racially insensitive behavior extends to Native Americans as well. He frequently wears a feather headdress on stage and appropriates a sacred Native symbol in his song “Great White Buffalo,” both of which are highly disrespectful to Native culture.
A Victory for Native Power: Just Say No to Ted Nugent’s Ugliness
By Gyasi Ross
Both the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Puyallup Tribe displayed Native Power 2014-style. Ted Nugent (and really anybody else) has an absolute legal right to say hateful, ugly and/or racist things (“Subhuman mongrel,” anyone?); yet Tribes are thankfully showing that they do not have to be complicit in hateful ugliness and/or REWARD the ugliness. Both the Coeur d’Alene Tribe as well as the Puyallup Tribe flexed that ability—to express displeasure with their pocketbooks. At first glance, these steps might not appear huge, yet these are steps that Tribes would not have the ability to make 20 years ago. In that regard, this is a huge deal—a thousand mile journey starts with one step.
Symbols matter. The ability and fortitude to disallow hate is a big deal.
Now, as Tribes build economic resources and engage in the electoral process, no matter how imperfect, they have the ability to weigh in on discussions that we previously were simply not invited to. Ultimately, reasonable people can differ on Ted Nugent specifically—I personally am not convinced he’s a racist. But I do think he’s a pretty nasty human being who has a penchant for saying really ugly things. Yet, irrespective of personal opinion, he’s just one redneck who happens to wear his stupidity on his sleeve. If you enjoy his music, whatever. But what he represents is much larger—a disruption to the status quo of folks not needing to respect Tribes’ purchasing power. “Hey Ted Nugent/Federal Express/Bank of America, if you’re gonna make money off of us, that’s cool, but you better come correct.” The Puyallup Tribe and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe were both willing to take action and pass on a very likely highly profitable concert for principle. Principle over profit??? That’s a rare and beautiful thing. We should all be proud of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Puyallup Tribe for creating this discussion and we should all be proud of all the activism that’s happened around this topic. This could and should continue. Someone needs to be keeping score of this: Who are our friends and who are not our friends?
Let’s hope other Tribes follow suit—not just with Ted Nugent, but with anyone who creates an environment of hate or who doesn’t help Native people.
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Posted at Indian Country Today Media Network, July 28, 2014