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UPDATE: Lawmaker Apologizes For Remarks About Native Americans During Alcohol Debate

State Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, speaks at a news conference in Oklahoma City, April 30, 2013.
Sue Ogrocki
Associated Press
State Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, speaks at a news conference in Oklahoma City, April 30, 2013.

The Oklahoma lawmaker widely criticized for his remarks last week that many viewed as disparaging to Native Americans has apologized.

State Rep. Todd Russ said during a floor speech Thursday that Native Americans are "predisposed to alcoholism."

In an email to the Indian Country Today Media Network, Russ said his comments during debate on a bill to change Oklahoma's alcohol laws were based on outdated information, Simon Moya-Smith reports:

I apologize for the unintended pain I have caused Native Americans by my statement that was based upon outdated information. I hope this misstatement has opened the dialogue that ensures the most accurate and current information is communicated. Opportunities to be more informed are welcomed as it gives me the knowledge to make the most educated decisions when I vote for legislation. Substance abuse has NO preference of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or socio-economic status. I have been personally affected by the misery caused from substance abuse by loved one’s myself.

Russ' House district includes the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. The Republican from the small town of Cordell called the area "beautifully diverse" and said he wants to make sure everyone is represented. 

Original Post

While debating proposed legislation to change a portion of the Oklahoma Constitution to allow wine and strong beer sales in grocery and convenience stores, one state lawmaker drew the ire of his colleagues for comments many felt were disparaging toward blacks and Native Americans.

During the two-hour debate on Senate Joint Resolution 68, state Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, said Native Americans are “predisposed to alcoholism.”

“They cannot process that like other people, and yet we want to put more of that out for them to be taken advantage of? Please don’t do that,” Russ said. “African-American Caucus, would you really vote for something that is the gateway to destroying the teenagers and the next generation of your culture and your people, when they are the ones most affected by these addictions of all society?”

State Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, who’s a member of the Creek Nation and chairs the House Native American Caucus, called Russ’ comments “out of order.”

State Rep. Dan Kirby's response to Russ' floor speech.

“He may not have intentionally done this, but disparaging Native Americans is an uncalled for, inappropriate comment on the House floor,” Kirby said.

There’s no scientific evidence supporting a genetic link between Native Americans and the ability to metabolize alcohol, and higher-than-average rates of alcohol abuse are typically linked to external factors like poverty or generational trauma.

SJR 68, by state Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa, passed 61-30 and now goes to a conference committee.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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