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Apr. 27 2010 - 9:49 am | 1,096 views | 1 recommendation | 7 comments

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    Dear Injuns,

    “Hey, you know, uh, uhm, so, sorry about the genocide and the smallpox blankets and the hundreds of broken treaties or whatever. Oh and my bad on your people being cooped up on game reserves. Or somethin.”

    Sincerely, the United States

  2. collapse expand

    There was far more news recently about (slavery) reparations. Appointing a new head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs yesterday was not even a footnote.
    http://trueslant.com/jamiemalanowski/2010/04/24/reparations-for-slavery-the-bill-was-paid-in-blood/

    I never understand the need to discuss reparations for purely historical events (such as Japanese internment) until we have first corrected current and ongoing mistreatment of the native population.

    • collapse expand

      Agreed. What’s a shame is that, from a purely objective standpoint, Native American lifestyles and belief systems could really be useful right now. And I don’t mean useful in the sense of “use it to get back on track and throw it away,” but for the long term. They got a lot of things right.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    I don’t blame the White House for not wanting to hold an apology ceremony for an empty, meaningless gesture that does more to make Sam Brownback feel better about himself than it does to address any of the ongoing harm to Indians and Indian Country.

    A real apology comes after a realization of your wrongs, a change in your actions, and a heartfelt sense of remorse. This pablum is little more than a restatement of an obviously destructive history. It doesn’t even connect that history to current problems Indian face, or the continued abuse we suffer at the hands of the BIA, Congress, and the Supreme Court.

    I bet I could count the number of Senators and Representatives on my two hands who even know this happened. Some apology.

  4. collapse expand

    I just would like people who go around feeling sorry for the Natives to take step back and see the whole picture. It is true that the people live very poor on the reservations yet the tribal governments are very rich enities. You keep the poor and desparate the more money you can scam from the american people. No one saids if you are Native you must live on a reservation and no one is telling an Native you can’t be a Native except yourselfs. Genocide was happening long before the europeans arrived here and so was salvery. Haterd towards people of this great coutry has become the meal of the day for most natives and is served ona plater by the tribal governments. I am asking that people take time to find out how much money is given to tribal governements and see how much goes to the people of these tribes. He is one example of the tribe I live by..Every year HUD gives this tribe 1.4 million dollars to build or buy homes for tribal members and in ten years not one home was buildt..so where did the money go?..Last year the tribe recieved 68 million dollars from the american people because we were not keeping up our trust obligation..once the tribe buys land, they request it is put into trust and then we the people must pay for its up keep..and the people got nothing.. when they asked where the money was, they were told it was spent. Now the drinking and drugs are a way of live, children with fetal alcohol syndom,and they blame you the american people. As long as you keep on feeling sorry for them, the tribals governments can use them to extort money, nothing will every change and the people will on day cease to live. They need hope not to be used. Tribal governemnts need to be held accountable.

  5. collapse expand

    The U.S. president is President for the entire country. This includes about 300,000,000 million people most of whom were either born here or migrated here within the last 90 years.
    Virtually none of them were responsible for any injustices to any Native American Indians and those Indians who have suffered injustices a century or two ago, have long since passed on.
    The issuance of a public apology at this late date is largely a meaningless political act because it is an apology for ancient history. The current efforts by Indian advocate groups, apologists and liberal utopians seeking atonement from people who have done NOTHING bad to any Native American Indians is wholly unnecessary, but they want a public “apology” anyway. The clamour for such an “apology” is nothing more than a politically correct gesture to feign atonemenent for things no one alive today is responsible for, but these apologist apparently assume personal guilt for them today. This would be like modern day Italians being required to apoloigize for the crucification of Jesus because Pontius Pilot was a Roman!
    The sad state of some reservation Indians in America today, (i.e. the “real remaining Indians”) is largely a result of their refusal to integrate into the mainstream of the American economic and the American health segments of the socio-political system. This is occurring because of the perpetuation of the “tribal” notion that to do so would somehow “destroy” their culture and traditions and surrender the fiction that they are somehow a “sovereign nation”. (over 600 so called “Indian Nations” within the United States many with only two, three or a hndful of memebers)
    Tribalism is an anachronism with no place in the modern world and has, and continues to result in, atrocities, racial discrimination, poverty, crime and even genocide today.
    The outrageous arrogance of tiny groups of fractional “Indians” (maybe) or psuedo Indians and wanabees is insulting to real Indians, particularly where it is obvious their only interest is in either obtaining federal welfare and grant monies, undue political influence or opening a gambling casino to profit from the losses of money by people who, for the most part, cannot afford to lose that money.
    This behavior is, at best, pitiful and is insulting to the dignity of the remaining real Indians who still retain some admirable moral values and traditions!

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    About Me

    I'm a staff reporter for Indian Country Today. I've written for American Indian Report, News from Indian Country, Politics, High Country News, Cultural Survival Quarterly, The New York Sun, The New York Times, The Guardian, and other places. I sometimes appear on NPR to discuss Indian and political issues. I'm a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. I live in metro Washington, D.C. E-mail me: robertcap@gmail.com Twitter: RobCapriccioso

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