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Indigenous State Rep. Rejects GOP Colleague's 'Disingenuous' Apology After Racist Remark

Indigenous State Rep. Rejects GOP Colleague's 'Disingenuous' Apology After Racist Remark
Kansas Legislature

Republican state Representative John Wheeler's attempt to make right his racist comment towards Representative Ponka-We Victors-Cozad (Ponca and Tohono O'odham) was rejected by the Wichita Democrat.

During a House floor debate on Wednesday, Victors-Cozad—who made history as the first Indigenous woman to lead the House from the Speaker's position—made an appropriate attempt to gain the attention of Wheeler by using the House Speaker's gavel.

In response, Wheeler looked at her and said:

“Thank you, Madam Chair. I was just checking to see if that was a tomahawk.”

Wheeler—seeming to find his own racism comical—laughed before he addressed the room.

He followed up by saying:

“I am getting a point that that is apparently considered offensive."
“If it is, I certainly do apologize.”

See the video below:

Wheeler then made a private apology to Victors-Cozad after the fact.

She responded in her statement below:

"March 23, 2022, was a monumental moment in history when I presided over the Kansas House of Representatives but the occasion was marred with a racially insensitive comment made by Representative John Wheeler."
“These remarks had no relevance in our sacred House chamber—to the business at hand—other than to instigate mockery towards myself and the Native people that I represent throughout the country.”
“I do not accept Representative Wheeler’s disingenuous apology."
"We as members of this legislative branch cannot allow this behavior to be tolerated without consequence in the people’s House.”

That same day Victors-Cozad joined her fellow Indigenous legislator, Representative Christina Haswood (Navajo), in advancing a bill which would transfer a half-acre of land containing the remains of tribal leaders from the city of Shawnee to the Shawnee tribe.

On Friday, she said of the incident:

"This is women’s history month and I am a proud Native American mother making history for the state of Kansas, and Representative Wheeler did his best to tarnish these accomplishments."
"I firmly hold him accountable to his words and actions.”

An angered public took to Twitter.

One account posted:

"Rep. Ponka-We Victors-Cozad said the “racially insensitive” comment by Rep. John Wheeler, was an abuse of his power as an elected official."
"His 'slanderous' attempt at satire mocked her culture and shouldn’t be tolerated by the Legislature."

Someone else shared:

"Rep. John Wheeler, a Garden City Republican, made an insensitive remark during a floor speech."
"This guy needs to resign. Sorry, not sorry, is not enough."

Wheeler has had a rocky reputation in his serving as a member of the legislature’s joint committee on state-tribal relations.

This is not the first derogatory statement that has gotten him into trouble.

Just a month ago during an online educational program, Wheeler mentioned his youthful attempts to convince other children Native Americans were violent and might attack them while in Kansas. This landed him with a suspension from the joint committee, concluding Monday.

Constituents are unhappy with his performance on the committee.

"To make matters worse, Rep John Wheeler is on the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations."
"He’s quoted as saying he’s 74 and the world has changed."
"He’s [tried] to keep up but he 'slipped.'"
"He needs to resign from this committee if he doesn’t respect Native Americans."

Another said:

"Ponka-We Victors-Cozad makes me proud to be a constituent."
"I'm glad she stood up to John Wheeler."
"Runs his mouth like a teen, makes me wonder if he's in what was called his 'second childhood.'"

Frustrations were exacerbated on Wednesday by the fact Victors-Cozad was making history as the first Native American chairwoman of the Kansas House of Representatives.

The Daily Beast posted:

"Rep. Ponka-We Victors of Wichita became the first Native American woman to serve as chair of the Kansas House of Representatives on Wednesday."
"But it wasn’t long before Rep. John Wheeler of Garden City spoiled the victorious moment."

Another shared the sentiment, posting:

"Complete a-hole, Rep. John Wheeler A native woman made history in the Kansas House."
"An insensitive remark quickly followed."

This is not Kansas GOP's first instance of racism against Indigenous people.

A local Kansas GOP official resigned in 2018 after making disparaging remarks about Kansas Democratic Representative Sharice Davids during her campaign.

In November of 2018, Davids joined Deb Haaland as the first Indigenous women in Congress.

This was another day meant to be one of celebration and pride for Indigenous people in Kansas and beyond.

Instead, she experienced racism and disrespect from the GOP.