This item got my attention as I caught up with my news/blog reading this afternoon. Apparently, some Senators are considering an official apology to Native Aemricans for … well … everything.
A U.S. senator on Wednesday urged a Senate committee to pass a resolution apologizing on behalf of the United States to American Indians for centuries of massacres, broken promises and other injustices.
Indian leaders at the hearing said they would need more than an apology to overcome the poverty, substance abuse and health care problems that many of their people face.
The United States has never formally apologized for its treatment of the indigenous people who were living here before European settlement began.
Sen. Sam Brownback (news, bio, voting record), a Kansas Republican who is spearheading the apology resolution, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs it would be a first step toward healing deep wounds.
“Before reconciliation, there must be recognition and repentance,” he said. “It begins the effort of reconciliation by recognizing past wrongs and repenting for them.”
The word “genocide” springs to mind. And before anyone jumps all over me for bringing up the “g word,” the reason it comes to mind is because of something I saw when the hubby and I visited the National Museum of the American Indian a month or so ago. As I walked through the museum, looked at the exhibits, and read the information, I began to feel more like I was visiting a memorial of sorts. Then I saw a sign with one of the exhibits, saying that approximately 20 million Native Americans died as a result of “the Contact,” and another 10 million perished of disease and other effects that came along with “the Contact.”
As we were leaving, the hubby said “You know, that almost seemed like…” I finished his sentence for him “A holocaust musuem?” He agreed. And it did have that feeling about it.
So, now the U.S. might apologize for all that. It’s hard to think about that without thinking of another apology that might be long overdue. The last time apologizing for slavery, etc., was brought up, Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. He didn’t think it was such a good idea. In fact, he seemed to think that the U.S. had already done more than enough to “make up for” slavery. Gingrich called it “emotional symbolism” and never allowed the matter to come to the floor of the House for a vote. In fact, he stopped just shy of saying that we were better off for it because it made us Americans.
At least that’s my interpretation of what he said, which I wrote off as simple bigotry at the time. It’s an attitude I’ve run into before. When I was in college, I actually had a classmate tell me in so many words that I was better off because of slavery and because my ancestors were slaves, because that was the cause of my being born in this country and being an American. He reasoned that I’m better off here than I would be in Africa right now, but his analysis stopped just short of questioning whether Africans might be better off now if Europeans had stayed the hell home centuries ago, and they hadn’t had to endure the various ill effects and outright barbarism of colonialism or its aftermath. I think it’s a question of what’s meant by “better off” and what assumptions are made about what groups of people may or may not have been able to achieve if left alone.
(For examples of what colonialism meant for indigenous people, I recommend Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold: Europe’s Conquest of Indigenous Peoples. For a fictionalized account of a world without Europeans, I recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s alternative history, The Years of Rice and Salt.)
It will be interesting to see how this apology to Native Americans fares, and if it ultimately suffers the same fate as the notion of apologizing to African Americans for slavery and its ill effects. It’s just my opinion (as is everything on this blog) that ‘sorry” is just a hard word for Westerners in general, and Americans specifically, to say. In particular, Americans seem to have such a deep need to believe in their own goodness, that apologizing for real wrongs seems to be admitting too much. We’d rather believe that the alleged goodness and purity of our intentions, and the relative progress made since the transgressions in question, are sufficient and no further consideration is required; not to mention an apology.
But sometimes an apology is more than emotional symbolism if sincere, whether it’s between individuals or nations. It’s an acknowledgement of wrongs done and experienced. It can also include an implicit promise to do better next time. Maybe that’s the rub.
Anyway, I always thought being an American meant never having to say you’re sorry.