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Politics
Brownback reintroduces Native apology resolution


A conservative Republican from Kansas urged the United States on Wednesday to apologize for its treatment of Native people.

In a statement on the Senate floor, Sen. Sam Brownback said the U.S. must start to heal the wounds caused by its failed Indian policies. He said an apology for breaking treaties with Indian nations and for making "poor and painful choices" in its dealings with Native people was the first step in reconciliation.

"It is time -- it is past time -- for us to heal our land of division, all divisions, and bring us together as one people," he said.

The remarks came a day after Brownback submitted S.J.Res.15 to the Senate. The full title of the measure is, "A joint resolution to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the United States Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States."

The resolution is identical to the one Brownback introduced last year and which passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee unanimously. The measure, however, never came up for a vote amid objections from the Bush administration and concern among some tribal leaders.

But Tex Hall, the president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, said the reintroduction of the apology bill was a positive step.

"This is a great moment and while the Senate Resolution does not come with compensation, it is a meaningful start for fixing what is wrong. The fact that Congress is even considering an official policy to Indian Country is a testament to our growing political strength," Hall said in a statement.

Last year, Hall spoke out in favor of the resolution. But during NCAI's mid-year session in June, some tribal leaders questioned whether the apology would carry any weight and suggested holding hearings.

"Putting forth an apology while doing nothing to solve these problems is just not adequate," Edward Thomas, the chairman of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes in Alaska said at the time.

The Bush administration, on the other hand, was concerned that the measure could expose the government to additional liability for its treatment of Native people. Brownback, however, said the resolution "will not authorize or serve as a settlement of any claim against the United States, nor will it resolve the many challenges still facing Native peoples."

Near the end of the Clinton administration, former assistant secretary Kevin Gover offered an apology for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. "Never again will we allow policy to proceed from the assumption that Indians possess less human genius than the other races," he said in August 2000. "Never again will we be complicit in the theft of Indian property. Never again will we appoint false leaders who serve purposes other than those of the tribes."

At the time, Gover said his apology was not on behalf of the U.S. "That is the province of the nation's elected leaders, and I would not presume to speak on their behalf," he said.

The new resolution is co-sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the new vice chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut). A similar resolution was introduced on January 4, 2005, by Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Virginia).

Since the apology is in the form of a resolution, it doesn't need the signature of President Bush. It also isn't legally binding on the government.

Relevant Documents:
Sen. Sam Brownback Statement | Text of S.J.Res.15 [As introduced] | H.J.Res.3