Last year, U.S. Senators Dan Inouye, Byron Dorgan, Daniel Akaka and Sam Brownback championed a Joint Resolution in Congress — the Apology to Native Peoples of the United States. Ironically, the Apology was enacted into law as part of the Defense Appropriations Act of 2009. Today, President Obama acknowledged the importance of the Apology to Native Peoples and his support for it. Reflecting on the difficult circumstances of Indian nations today, Obama said:
“These cases serve as a reminder of the importance of not glossing over the past or ignoring the past, even as we work together to forge a brighter future. That’s why, last year, I signed a resolution, passed by both parties in Congress, finally recognizing the sad and painful chapters in our shared history — a history too often marred by broken promises and grave injustices against the First Americans. It’s a resolution I fully supported — recognizing that no statement can undo the damage that was done; what it can do is help reaffirm the principles that should guide our future. It’s only by heeding the lessons of our history that we can move forward.”
Public Law 111-118, Section 8113—The Apology to Native Peoples of the United States explains, “the United States, acting through Congress—
• Recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;
• 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 the citizens of the United States; and
• Urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land….”
Senator Dan Inouye, a World War II Medal of Honor winner and Hero of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, said:
“In our early days as a nation, we entered into treaties with Native Americans pursuant to the provisions of the U.S. Constitution that recognize them as sovereigns. But later, we abandoned the path of an honorable course of dealings, and turned to war. Thousands lost their lives through these battles and horrific massacres. The native population everywhere was decimated.
“Forced marches to relocate the native people from their traditional homelands to areas west of the Mississippi in the dead of winter cost thousands of more lives…. The treaties could have signaled a return to a course of honorable dealings … had the United States not proceeded to break provisions in every single one of the treaties….”
Senator Daniel Akaka, another World War II veteran, said:
“In many ways, the United States broke these treaties and engaged in acts of war against our Native peoples, taking lands by force, displacing Native peoples and leaving them in poverty and suffering. At times, the United States informed indigenous, Native peoples that their continued residence on their original lands would be considered an act of war against the U.S. and if they did not leave, U.S. military forces commenced wars, imprisoned and killed Native leaders and people, and tragically at places like Sand Creek and Wounded Knee massacred Native men, women and children.”
Senator Brownback, now the Governor-elect of Kansas, said:
“What this amendment achieves is recognition, honor, and the importance of Native Americans to this land and to the United States in the past and today and offers an official apology for the poor and painful path the U.S. Government sometimes made in relation to our Native brothers and sisters by disregarding our solemn word to Native peoples. It recognizes the negative impact of numerous destructive Federal acts and policies on Native Americans and their culture, and it begins — begins — the effort of reconciliation.”
At the time of its passage, U.S. Representatives Kildee, Cole, Napolitano, Honda, Boren, Walz, Reyes, Richardson, Kennedy, Teague, McCollum, Baca, and Herseth-Sandlin wrote to the President in favor of the Resolution, and said:
“Indian tribes aided George Washington and his troops during the American Revolution, and through more than 370 treaties, our Nation pledged to protect Indian tribes and Indian lands. Yet as a Nation, we later … engaged in warfare to seize Indian lands, destroyed Indian villages, and thousands lost their lives through battles and horrific massacres, at places like Sand Creek and Wounded Knee. Many Indian leaders, Osceola, Mangus Colorado, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and many others died at the hands of, or in the custody of, Federal officers and agents. Thousands died on forced marches from their homelands….”
As Native people, we believe that the Apology to Native Peoples by the United States is long overdue. The true history must be taught in American schools, so that today there can be real respect by the United States for Native nations and Native peoples. Today, President Obama took an important step forward by declaring his support for the Apology.