Sorry seems to be the hardest word.—Elton John
We apologized to the Native Peoples of the United States for all the terrible things we did to them like genocide, ethnic cleansing, banning their religious practices, outlawing their languages, and lying to them over and over. It only took five centuries, but, we did it because we had not loved our Native neighbors as we loved ourselves. At least that was what the Congress said at the time. Then we did it again.
The apology was a bit unusual, not just for its content, but for its context: tucked deep inside something as far away from an apology as could be, namely, The Defense Appropriations Act of 2010, signed by then President Barack Obama. In it, the Congress allocated billions of dollars to make war on a number of other nations, while simultaneously apologizing for five centuries of war-making on this continent.
Section 8113 of that law reads:
(a)Acknowledgment and apology
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.
Nothing in this section—
(1)authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or
(2)serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.
The long overdue apology was signed without fanfare, without official acknowledgement that it was even the law of the land, and without any action by President Obama, his Cabinet or the various bureaucracies of the United States Government, beyond the actual signing and filing of the bill. The President never acknowledged “the wrongs of the United States against the Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to the this land.”
Seven years later, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose land and water supply along the Missouri River were threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline, stood up to the U.S. government and 10,000 people joined that protest at its height. But, in the spirit of the apology-tucked-into-a-war-funding-law, they were rebuffed by the government in January, and this week the pipeline’s contractor announced that oil was being pumped into the pipes.
Real apologies require real change by the offending party. And they don’t include disclaimers. We haven’t changed the way we treat the Native People of this continent, and so we have nullified the apology. I’m sure the Standing Rock Sioux and all the other Native People were not surprised, considering how long they’ve known us. It’s who we are, we who apologize through the clenched teeth of war-making.