On February 26, the Senate passed a “Resolution of Apology to Native Peoples of the United States.” It is now pending in the House of Representatives.
First it makes “findings,” one of which is that “the policies of the Federal Government toward Indian tribes and the breaking of covenants with Indian tribes have contributed to the severe social ills and economic troubles in many Native communities today.” No mention, of course, of more proximate causes, like off-the-chart rates of alcoholism and illegitimacy. And, of course, government efforts “to assimilate” Indians, rather than the reservation system, is criticized.
But then follows the really juicy part, the “Acknowledgment and Apology.” It reads:
The United States, acting through Congress–
(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;
(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;
(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;
(4) 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 citizens of the United States;
(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;
(6) 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; and
(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.
Now, a few questions, just for starters. Does “special” in item #1 mean different and higher than its relationship with Americans who don’t belong to Indian tribes? In item #4, why exactly does Congress presume to be able to apologize on behalf of the American people, especially when the American people — the ones living, I mean — are unlikely to consider themselves guilty of any of the listed depredations? Regarding item #6, does anyone really think that this sort of exercise helps or is intended to “bring healing,” rather than just keep old wounds alive?
And, of course, now that we’ve apologized to the Native Peoples, what about all the other groups? Do you think it will occur to, say, Revs. Al and Jesse that some other apologies are in order? And, once that happens, that the apologies will be used to justify more, um, concrete demonstrations of sorrow than mere words can provide? (This, by the way, is exactly what has happened with regard to an ill-conceived apology resolution to Native Hawaiians signed by President Clinton in 1993.)
If we are one people — if E pluribus unum means anything — then we don’t divide ourselves by having one part apologize to the other.