Senate Apology to Native People--A Good First Step

The apology to Native people passed by the Senate last week is a step towards reconciliation. But on this Columbus Day, let's be clear that an apology must be followed by action.

It's hard for a country to change its founding mythology, but the
U.S. Senate has taken an important step towards accomplishing that. The
Senate approved an apology to Native Americans on October 7, as an
amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill. The Senate also passed an
apology resolution in 2008, but it has yet to be signed into law.

The resolution commends Native people for protecting and stewarding
the land for thousands of years. It's an official rejection of the myth
that European explorers "discovered" a pristine wilderness, with a few
bands of nomadic tribes wandering about living off the fat of the land.

The Europeans told themselves they were a civilizing force, bringing religion
and education to uncivilized people, even while they forced Native
people from their land, enslaved them, and killed thousands--some
intentionally and some through the spread of disease. The Senate
resolution apologizes "for the many instances of violence,
maltreatment, and neglect" and expresses regret for the "former wrongs."

An apology isn't enough. The resolution makes clear that it does not
authorize any claims against the United States--in other words, no
reparations are offered. While it acknowledges past wrongs, it does
nothing to address current wrongs. And it offers no support for those
still recovering from being forced to attend abuse-ridden boarding
schools or those subjected to some of the highest rates of violence and poor health in the U.S. In a guest column in Indian Country Today, Kevin Abourezk, Rosebud Lakota, says, "Pass the Indian health bill, and then we'll talk."

On the other hand, a step towards changing our founding mythology is
no small accomplishment. Many well-meaning people believe we should
forget about past wrongs and just get along. But we can't get there
without building a foundation that acknowledges the harms done in the building of our country,
tells the truth about our present, and commits to doing right in the
future. The resolution is just a start at what needs doing, and it
still must be passed by the House. Most importantly, to keep it from
being yet another empty statement, it must be followed by action.

This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.