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Resolution offers apology for 'ill-conceived policies'
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Tex Hall was in North Dakota last fall when he received a call on his cell phone. He was surprised to hear who was on the other end.

It was Sen. Sam Brownback, the Republican from Kansas whose name rarely appears on legislation affecting Indians. In recent years, in fact, the conservative lawmaker has been on the opposing end of tribes, particularly when it comes to gaming.

So Hall was even more surprised to learn why Brownback was calling. "We talked about some of the historical wrongdoings [against Native Americans] and he wanted to know what we could possibly do," Hall said.

The discussion intrigued Hall, the president of the National Congress of American Indians. "I said, 'You know the United States has never really formally apologized'" for its treatment of Native people, Hall noted.

"And he obviously did his homework," Hall said of Brownback. "He said 'Yeah, I know.'"

That gave Hall, who also serves as chairman of his tribe, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, an opening. "Why don't you do it?" challenged Hall.

Brownback wholeheartedly accepted the offer. For several months after that call, his staff worked with NCAI and some tribes to develop a formal apology to the first Americans. Introduced last month, it is backed by Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), two respected figures in Indian Country.

"This is a resolution of apology and a resolution of reconciliation," Brownback said in his statement on the Senate floor. "It is a first step toward healing the wounds that have divided us for so long -- a potential foundation for a new era of positive relations between tribal governments and the federal government. It is time -- it is past time -- for us to heal our land of division, all divisions, and bring us together as one people."

The resolution cites a number of "official depredations and ill-conceived policies" towards American Indians and Alaska Natives. Among them:

  • Hundreds of broken treaties with Indian nations.
  • The Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced Eastern tribes from their homelands.
  • The Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, in which the U.S. military killed 150 Cheyenne men, women and children.
  • The Long Walk of 1868, which caused the deaths of hundreds of Navajos.
  • The General Allotment Act of 1887, which broke up the tribal land base.
  • The Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, in which the U.S. military killed 300 Sioux men, women and children.
  • The failed 19th- and 20th-century policies of assimilation, termination and relocation.

    "It's an historic, tremendous occasion ," Hall said of the measure. "When you finally apologize, you acknowledge those past sins and those violations and crimes."

    The resolution is quick to note that the apology won't authorize money damages or other payments to tribes of individual Indians. "But it does recognize the negative impact of numerous deleterious Federal acts and policies on Native Americans and their cultures," Brownback said in his statement. "Moreover, it begins the effort of reconciliation by recognizing the past wrongs and repenting for them."

    The Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Campbell, will consider the measure at a business meeting today. Hall said he hoped lawmakers would act this summer so that an apology can be ready when the National Museum of American Indians opens in September.

    "The timing could have a really tremendous impact," he said.

    The apology is written as a joint resolution so it would need approval in the House as well as the Senate before heading to President Bush for his signature. There is currently no accompanying resolution in the House.

    Relevant Documents:
    Text of Apology Resolution [As Introduced] | Sen. Brownback Statement on Resolution | Link to S.J.RES.37

    Relavent Links:
    Sen. Sam Brownback - http://brownback.senate.gov

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