24 January 2010

Confronting our History

Amid all the noise surrounding the health care debate, attempted terrorist attacks, the Copenhage Summit, and everything else that happened in December of 2009, President Obama signed a significant resolution on the 19th of December. The idea for the Resolution, first pushed by Senator Brownback of Kansas , was included as Section 8113 in the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act, H.R. 3326, Public Law 111-118. The short description on the original resolution reads like this: "To acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States."

It's important to note that the Resolution initially had bipartisan support, certainly in terms of sponsorship. Official apologies of this sort, no doubt, rankle many on the far right, but it should be noted that Senator Brownback (R) was the originator of this particular action -- Senator Dorgan (D) of North Dakota was a co-sponsor -- it was actually Dorgan that managed to have it included as part of the Defense Appropriations Act. As one who has spent the past twenty years teaching in a school in which roughly 20% of our students are American Indian, I applaud this action by those in the House and Senate that voted their approval. It would have been more effective, I believe, to have had the resolution as a "stand-alone" action, but I still see this as a victory. Here is a press report of the signing:

This is one of those stories that flies under the radar unless you are tuned in to the story of the Native American people. On November 5th of 2009, President Obama had a meeting with tribal leaders from around the country and the text of his remarks are worth reading and offer great insight into his attitude toward the "first nations." Again, on a somewhat personal note, HoChunk President Wilfrid Cleveland is one of those that spoke to the President and you can read his statement and the President's remarks here:


Interactions of this nature are terribly significant and it is unfortunate though not surprising that they receive almost zero coverage in the national media. The critics of the President, of course, continually chastise him for his "apologetic" posture on the world stage, but I suppose we hear what we want to hear. As one who has devoted my adult life to the study and teaching of history, it is critically important for our nation that we get our history "right" and that we not sugarcoat the nature of US Government actions regarding the treatment of American Indians and African Americans. I see this as similar to the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" that was set up in post-Apartheid South Africa. How do we move forward if we do not acknowledge the wrongs of the past? How can healing ever begin?

1 comment:

Hayley Lane said...

I completely agree with this entire blog entry. I was incredibly excited to read that the Native American people were getting an apology for everything that has been done to them. Now I would like to see an apology to the African American people emerge...though I do not think this kind of legislation can come from our president, due to the glaring fact that he is black. I am more stunned by our treatment of black people than I am of our treatment of Native Americans. We enslaved, segregated, brutilized, and devastated these people, and something needs to be done about it. However, I know that nothing really will be done until the generations that enforced the segregation die off.