Wednesday, March 12, 2008

About Time: Resolution of Apology to Native Peoples of the United States

While Indigenous leaders gather to save the planet, David Pego (1) - writing for - tells us that:

They’re really getting close to finally saying the two words we American Indians have long wanted to hear.

The important two words: “We’re sorry.”

.....The official wording of the bill introduced by Senator Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican from Kansas, says the United States was guilty of “official depredations and ill-conceived policies.”

Faith Bremer, writing for the ArgusLeader notes that:

Congress has apologized for mistreating other minority groups. In 1993, it apologized to Native Hawaiians for helping overthrow the Hawaiian kingdom in the late 1800s. In 1988, Congress apologized to Japanese Americans for forcibly removing them to internment camps during World War II.
......"However, an apology alone won't improve Indian health care, secure educational opportunities for the future of Indian children or bring economic development to Indian Country," (Sen. Tim) Johnson said.

"The best way for the United States to apologize to Indian Country is to live up to the treaty and trust responsibilities," he said.

The apology resolution, which was introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., recounts how native people helped early European settlers and explorers survive their harsh, unfamiliar surroundings and how relations between the groups descended into armed conflicts, in which many innocent lives were lost.

I have posted a Native American map of the United States at the Full Circle blog site. If you click on that, you can see the larger version which shows the tribal territories that were in place when the Pilgrims landed. For more on this issue I recommend reading The Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zin and Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.

In his article for the Native American Village, Pego warns us that all this could still be Bush-wacked - again - and explains why this issue is so important to native people:

What does that mean? Well, some of us older folk can tell you it means we had older relatives who were sent to boarding schools and never came home. It recalls the open season on American Indians decades ago, just like they hunt for deer and buffalo now.

....We are sorry. You are forgiven.

What powerful words. Do we forget that in many tribes, we would take the injured warriors from another tribe into our homes and nurse them back to health and then adopt them as our own sons? Things were so much more honorable then. Imagine battle where you win glory by just touching someone.

Meanwhile, Robert Colter, Founder of the Indian Law Resource Center, reminds us that offering an apology means you won't do it again, something our goverment does not seem to understand.

A good example of ongoing wrongs is how the government is trying to drive Western Shoshone Indians off their homelands in Nevada without due process and for a payment of about 15 cents per acre. This is gold-mining land (much of it turned over for only $2.50 per acre to Canadian-owned companies) but Indians derive no royalties from it, while being left virtually landless with no means for economic development to improve their impoverished conditions.

...Another glaring abuse of federal power is how the Interior Department still does not account for billions in Indian funds that it holds. This national shame is reported regularly in the press. The department is defying the law, as it has done for years.

A few casinos does not make up for this government's actions towards Native Americans, both in the past and today. Such an apology should be coupled, one would hope, with real efforts to deal with poverty and support education among their people.

Pagans may remember that in 2002 Pope John Paul issued a blanket apology for "errors of the church for the last 2,000 years". Many of us thought this was a good first step. However, the apology was far too vague and sounded to many Pagans as if he were merely saying "Mistakes were made." Speaking only for myself, I believe it is high time that Catholic and Protestant religious leaders apologize - clearly, specifically and unreservedly - for the torture and death of thousands of women, men and animals during The Burning Times.


P.S. My thanks to the Wildhunt Blog for the link to the article on the indigenous leaders conference.

Related Articles:

Why Words Matter, Part II: Saying Sorry
Australia's Applogy to the Aborginal People

Recovering From Our Culture: Why Words Matter


(1) Contributing editor and director of writer development David Pego is a Saginaw Chippewa tribal member. He was the first native journalist to be named a McCormick Tribune Fellow. David was a delegate to the historic White House Conference on Indian Education and was the 2000 winner of the Innovators In Education Award. He also serves as National Chair for the new Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society national writing competition for young students.

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