Obama signs apology to Native Americans, but doesn’t say it out loud, nor issue announcement
Did you know that President Barack Obama signed a historic apology resolution addressed to American Indians in December, but he hasn’t drawn any attention to it?
As I reported in January, no press releases went out; the White House didn’t make any announcements; and the president didn’t tell any tribal citizens or leaders about the apology he had signed.
The question from several Indians I interviewed at the time centered on whether this was a real apology. After all, is an apology not said out loud, and not drawn attention to, really an apology? I titled the piece, “A sorry saga.”
“What kind of an apology is it when they don’t tell the people they are apologizing to? For an apology to have any meaning at all, you do have to tell the people you’re apologizing to,” said Robert T. Coulter, executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center.
“I have had my doubts on whether this is a true or meaningful apology, and this silence seems to speak very loudly on that point.”
The story has been popular in Indian circles, and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., drew more attention to it in an interview he did with me after the president’s signature.
Brownback, who introduced the original resolution in Congress in 2004, again made points on the topic at the recent National Indian Gaming Association conference. There, he told my colleague and attendees that he’s been “pushing the administration to have a major public ceremony, but they aren’t taking it on yet.”
When I asked the White House in January about the situation, they told me there were “no updates at this time” on how Obama might proceed. And no updates have since come, either.
What does the Native American Apology Resolution say? It reads in part that Congress “apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.”
It also “urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land.”
Further, it comes with a disclaimer that nothing in the resolution authorizes or supports any legal claims against the United States and that the resolution does not settle any claims against the country.
Some tribal officials are hopeful that an apology ceremony will happen by the end of this year with major tribal officials in attendance. But, with politics looming large, no one is saying with confidence at this point that it will happen.
Brownback told me that this situation should ideally be apolitical.
“I am concerned about people doing political calculations in the White House, looking at it that way,” the senator said.
“My hope is that they would look at this, noting it has been a bipartisan issue. They could use me and others to shield themselves on it. They don’t have to take all the responsibility themselves. I do think there’s strength in the nature of this being bipartisan for them to use that. I just think there is so much good that could come out of this.”
As Brownback said, the apology has indeed been largely bipartisan. Now, let’s see how this sorry saga plays out.