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Apology resolution faces additional delays under Bush

A resolution to apologize for the federal government's treatment of Native peoples is being delayed by the Bush administration, supporters of the measure said.

Introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican from Kansas, the resolution offers a formal apology on behalf of the United States for "official depredations and ill-conceived policies" towards American Indians and Alaska Natives. It has the support of Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), as well as lawmakers of both parties.

The measure, S.J.Res.37, appeared to be on the fast track for Senate approval until it hit some snags recently. After being delayed twice, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is due to consider it yet again tomorrow.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), a member of the committee, supports the apology. But he said the Bush administration is asking for more time to mull over the bill.

"I hope that we could get this back on track here very soon so long as we understand that while apologies are appropriate and something that we should do, that they are not something to be undertaken in lieu of honoring our treaties and trust responsibilities and adequate funding for Native American programs," he said.

Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said the administration is worried that the apology could lead to lawsuits seeking money damages for past policies. But he pointed out that the resolution already includes language against such claims.

"I think America clearly knows the atrocities -- the holocaust, the land theft, the boarding school experience completely wiping out the language and cultures of our Native brothers and sisters," he said yesterday during a press conference at NCAI's mid-year session on the Mohegan Reservation in Connecticut.

Since the apology is in the form of a Congressional resolution, it doesn't need President Bush's signature, added Jacqueline Johnson, NCAI's executive director. It's not legally binding on the U.S. either, she said.

"We've been encouraging tribes to submit comments," Johnson said. Some hearings before Congress might be held to develop a more complete record, she said.

Phil Fontaine, the elected chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Canada's most representative Native organization, offered a unique perspective on the issue. He said his country not only apologized for its treatment of Native peoples, particularly for sending them to boarding schools where physical, sexual and other abuse occurred, but set aside $350 million in Canadian funds.

"We were able to use that [money] to create the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which is responsible for supporting healing initiatives on the part of those people that experienced trauma and pain and suffering from the residential school experience," he said. With interest, the fund has grown to $450 million, he said.

The apology, issued in January 1998, opened the way for thousands of claims against Canada and several church groups that ran the schools, Fontaine acknowledged. He said the government has set up an out-of-court process to resolve the suits. Overall, he said Canada has provided $2 billion to First Nations and Native people to settle various claims.

In addition to the administration's delay, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has expressed concerns about the wording of the resolution and whether it appropriately reflects Alaska Natives. She might advocate a separate apology for Alaska Natives, or the existing measure could be modified.

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.

Nedra Darling, a BIA spokesperson, said the Interior Department hasn't commented on the apology resolution. "The bill hasn't been sent to us for any kind of discussion," she said yesterday. "We don't have any official position on the bill at this point."

Campbell has scheduled a business meeting tomorrow to consider the measure, which supporters originally hoped to have passed by the opening of the new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., in September. The meeting occurs before the oversight hearing on tribal detention facilities.

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

Relevant Links:
Aboriginal Healing Foundation -

Related Stories:
Letter: People opposing formal apology in denial (06/18)
High-profile bills delayed by Senate committee (6/17)
Indian Affairs Committee activity this week (6/15)
Editorial: Apology to Native peoples not needed (6/15)
Tribal foes question need for U.S. apology resolution (6/11)
Brownback says reservation visit inspired apology (05/25)
Consideration of U.S. apology resolution delayed (05/20)
Apology from U.S. requested by Kansas Senator (5/19)