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?"
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
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
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
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 or 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.
Text of Apology
Resolution [As Introduced] |
Statement on Resolution |
Link to S.J.RES.37
Sen. Sam Brownback -