- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Sen. Sam Brownback wants Congress to apologize to American Indians for the egregious federal actions committed against them, while a freshman House member wants the same courtesy extended to black Americans.

Mr. Brownback said he has introduced the legislation in the 108th and 109th Congresses, the bill being passed out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs both times, but he has never been able to get the bill to the floor.

“The arguments against the bill are always that there were atrocities committed on both sides and that apologies lead to financial remedies, but this bill doesn’t deal with that, and it is specific to federal actions, not what happened in some town or village during the Western expansion,” Mr. Brownback said.

He said the apology is about “the heart” and acknowledging that wrongs were committed in the interest of healing. Republicans failed to hold a floor vote on the bill when they had the majority, and now Democrats are in control, and Mr. Brownback is a presidential candidate with the ability to generate national awareness on the campaign trail.

“We want to do a congressional delegation trip to Sand Creek, Colorado, to raise awareness of the atrocities that have been committed,” Mr. Brownback said. Sand Creek was the site of an 1864 massacre of an encampment of Cheyenne women, children and elderly at the hands of 700 state militia.

Congress has passed such resolutions before.

Just two years ago, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing for its failure to pass an anti-lynchings bill in the 1930s, a move sponsored by Sens. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, and George Allen, Virginia Republican.

In 1988, President Reagan signed a bill to both apologize to and compensate Japanese Americans who were forced to enter detention camps during World War II.

Congress has been wary of such resolutions since then because of the $1.6 billion that was spent in compensation to Japanese Americans, and because it has always been considered an avenue to reparations for black Americans as descendants of 350 years of slavery.

But despite that, freshman Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, has introduced a House resolution of apology for slavery and the 100 years of Jim Crow policy after the post-Civil War Reconstruction.

Mr. Cohen has represented the majority-black district of Memphis since the end of the father-son dynasty of Reps. Harold E. Ford Sr. and Jr. last year, when the younger Mr. Ford left the House seat to make a Senate bid that fell short.

Mr. Cohen said he was inspired by President Clinton’s sentiments of apology 10 years ago. “When Virginia did it last month with bipartisan, unanimous support, that gave me a sense that this could be done,” he said.

He said a Democratic majority would also help, but said Republicans could also be swayed by President Bush’s 2003 apology when he spoke of the atrocities of the slave trade on a trip to Goree Island, Senegal, in West Africa.

“I have discussed this bill with a lot of people over the last two months, and the response was positive with 38 co-sponsors, and 19 members of the Congressional Black Caucus have signed on,” Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Brownback and Mr. Cohen have not discussed their bills but did not rule out combining them.

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