- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004


An official apology for the way the United States and its citizens have mistreated American Indians and the country’s other indigenous people is starting to move through Congress.

“I know there’s potential for this being controversial,” said the apology’s author, Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican. He recalled the barrage of vitriolic phone calls a few years ago that blocked a similar attempt by former Rep. Tony Hall, Ohio Democrat, to obtain an official apology to the descendants of former slaves.

“But the circumstances are different,” Mr. Hall said. “With the maturity of the sovereign tribes being acknowledged, the opening this fall [on Washington’s Mall] of the museum recognizing the contribution of Native Americans, this is a moment that could be used, not to heal all old wounds, but to start building a new relationship.”

The Senate this month passed a resolution, 92-0, saying it “joins with the president in expressing apology for the humiliation suffered by the prisoners in Iraq and their families.”

But with that exception, Congress hasn’t approved an official apology since 1993. That year, the House voted overwhelmingly and the Senate voted 65-34 to apologize to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii 100 years previously.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is expected to advance Mr. Brownback’s bill to the Senate calendar in June. The co-sponsors include the panel’s chairman, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado Republican, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe who is the only American Indian in Congress, and its vice chairman, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat.

The bill says the United States “acknowledges years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies and the breaking of covenants by the United States government regarding Indian tribes.”

It also “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.”

To show that the measure isn’t a back-door attempt to settle ongoing legal disputes, it also says, “Nothing in this Joint Resolution authorizes any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

And the president is urged to join Congress in its apology.

“Canada has done it, but the United States has never formally apologized for all the atrocities and double-dealing,” said Tex Hall, president of the 250-tribe National Congress of American Indians.

Mr. Hall, who is also chairman of the Mendan, Hidasa and Arikara Nation in Fort Berthold, N.D., said, “It’s only one small step, but without an apology you can’t do the healing, and without the healing, we can’t come together as one country.”

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