A sorry attempt at apology
By Susan Greene
Denver Post Columnist
Article Last Updated: 02/26/2008
This is from the UNA newsletter The Indians and the Southern People have a lot in common when it comes to mistreatment from the Federal government ….
Shannon Francis never sought an apology from a country that yanked her mom and grandma off their reservations, forced them into white foster families and barred them from speaking their native Hopi and Navajo languages.
So the Denver resident was unaware Tuesday that her government had decided to say, "Sorry." "I had no clue it was coming," the 38-year-old mother of six said with a shrug. "So much for making history."
Like Francis, you probably missed it when the U.S. Senate quietly apologized for centuries of "violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples."
The unprecedented resolution acknowledges that the government forced indigenous people off their land, stole their assets and was responsible for "official depredations, ill-conceived policies and the breaking of covenants" with tribes.
When Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized two weeks ago for policies that degraded that country’s Aborigines, he blared his pronouncement live on giant screens throughout Australia.
U.S. senators instead buried their "Oops, our bad" in an amendment to a bill for American Indian health care.
Well, that certainly makes up for the Sand Creek Massacre and Wounded Knee. So much for healing generations.
"White America can’t afford to apologize too seriously because it would threaten their ownership of Indian land," said Iliff School of Theology Indian cultures professor Tink Tinker.
Tuesday’s resolution came at the urging of Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who reports a "deep resentment" among Native Americans in his state.
His colleagues aren’t so big on apologies. Congress hadn’t formally said "sorry" since apologizing to Native Hawaiians in 1993 for overthrowing their kingdom a century earlier. In 1988, lawmakers apologized and compensated Japanese-Americans interned in World War II detention camps. Brownback’s resolution does not authorize or settle any claim against the United States.
"We have a government that took our land and our children and physically and emotionally abused them and forced them to assimilate into something that they’re not," said Francis, an accounting consultant by trade and a longtime activist for American Indian causes. "We – I – live with the pain of that every day. And for this they issue a bunch of words, empty like their treaties, that mean nothing and nobody hears."
Who is the apology really for, Francis wonders? Is it for her mother, grandmother and aunties who spent lifetimes trying to forget the federal boarding schools that sought to strip away their culture? For her brother, plagued like their father and grandfather by poverty and alcoholism?
For her son, who failed a 7th-grade history test when he refused to check the box saying Christopher Columbus discovered America? Or for Francis herself, who overcame years of shame about her dark skin and accent to learn the ways of her ancestors that her own family had failed to pass on: to honor her kids, hug them and root them deeply in their heritage? "If our people had been left alone, maybe things would have been different," she said.
As Francis sees it, Tuesday’s resolution does little to fix a sad sequence of abuses that still is far from over. "We don’t need any more hollow words," she says. "What I want is for the country to be honest, really honest, about what it has done and what it continues doing to our people."