On December 19, 2009 the United States apologized to its Native Peoples—but no one heard it.
Over three hundred million US citizens were apologized for, and don’t even know it.
Nearly five million Native Americans were apologized to, yet only a handful are aware of it.
December 19, 2012 marked the third anniversary of an an “Apology to Native Peoples of the United States” signed by President Obama on December 19, 2009. Among the ironies of this apology, is the fact that it was burried in the US Department of Defense Appropriations Act, H.R. 3326; and the fact that it was never announced, publicized or read publicly by either the White House or the 111th Congress.
On this third anniversary I (Terry Wildman) had the privilege, along with a diverse group of citizens, of participating in a public reading of this apology in front of the US Capitol in Washington DC.
This event was hosted by Mark Charles who lives on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Ft. Defiance Arizona, the son of an American woman of Dutch heritage and a Navajo man. He is a speaker, writer, and consultant, who has been on a journey seeking to understand the complexities of our country’s history regarding race, culture, and faith in order to help forge a path of healing and reconciliation for the Nation.
During the gathering he stated, “Reconciliation is never easy, which is why it probably doesn’t happen very much. Reconciliation is not an event encapsulated in a moment of time, its not something you can check off your to-do list; reconciliation starts with a conversation and it ends with a relationship restored.”
“Everybody at some point” he added, “understands the value of a sincere and well timed apology.”
He explained the reason for this gathering, “I felt like every Native person deserved two things, they deserved to know that this apology existed, and they deserved to hear it read from the seat of power of our country.”
I joined with several Native Americans as we read portions of the Defense Appropriations Bill to highlight the irony of such important words being burried in an unrelated document.
Then Mark read the apology, found in section 8113 on page 45, in English, followed in the Annishinabe language by Jim Thorpe, Ojibwe. Ben Stoner, a non-native who has lived among the Navajo for 40 years, read the apology section in the Navajo language.
After this Mark Charles said “I have deep respect for Governor Brownback who spent four years of his time in the Senate … working on this apology and trying to get … substantial language included into a bill that stood on its own, but he was unable to do it … attempt after attempt was turned back … and finally he did what I was told they used to do to get treaties passed … he inserted it into an appropriations bill because it was less likely someone would vote against it.”
All this added up to a conclusion by Mark Charles, “I take all of these things as evidence that our Country was not ready to apologize. An applogy should be sincere, it should be from your heart, and should include some act of repentance or commitment to change … I don’t think this apology does that.”
He then offered this request, spoken with humility and authority, “Today as a Navajo man standing before you, I want to encourage our Native peoples, to not accept this apology. Not out of bitterness, not out of anger, not out of resentment. But out of respect for ourselves, out of respect for Governor Brownback, out of respect for President Obama, and out of respect for our Nation.
He finished with this thought, “Native peoples deserve a better apology than the one found in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. And Governer Brownback and President Obama deserve the respect, to be given an opportunity to make another apology, one that is more sincere.”
After this and other relevant remarks Mark opened the microphone to others.
I took this opportunity to address the churches of America, the decendants of those believers who, through mission and church organizations, often cooperated with the Government in ways that oppressed Native Peoples. It was their often silent and sometimes verbal consent that emboldened the US Government in its ill conceived policies and practices.
How can we say we are reconciled to God if we haven’t done all that we can to reconcile with our Native Peoples?
Lets break with the past, enter into this conversation, and make a concerted effort to restore relationships.
After all, it is Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” Matthew 5:9.
Shouldn’t his followers be leading the way?
It was an honor to stand with Mark Charles and help communicate this important message to our Native communities and to all the citizens of the United States. Miigwech Bizandowiyeg (thank you for listening).