On June 11, 2008, millions of Canadians tuned into a live, nationally-television apology to the First Nations from their Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. In this historic speech in the House of Commons, the Canadian government took full responsibility for the Canadian government’s attempts to assimilate First Nations children “causing great harm that has lasted for generations”. Harper went on to outline compensation for former residential school students, the creation of an ongoing Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as increased funding for child welfare and education.
The United States passed the Native American Apology Resolution in 2009 that acknowledged a “long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes” and offered an apology “to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States”. However, by contrast, President Obama signed this resolution on December 19, 2009 in a ceremony that was closed to the press.
Armand MacKenzie, the former Senior Advisor on International & Human Rights Affairs at the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples of Canada emphasized the importance of full, public disclosure. “It was really something great to see the Apology done in public,” he said. “The injustices were a result of state policies and practices. They need to be accountable, otherwise governments can do what they want without consequence.”
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Senator from Kansas, Senator Sam Brownback and Democratic Senator from North Dakota, Byron Dorgan, tried for five years to pass an Apology when, finally, the bill was approved by tucking it away on page 45 of a 67 page document of an unrelated spending bill, 2010 Defense Appropriations Act, H.R. 3326. In addition to being less public, the United States apology missed the opportunity to detail the government’s transgressions. While the original preamble to the U.S. bill detailed specific crimes and offenses as the Canadian apology had – the Trail of Tears, the Long Walk, the Sand Creek Massacre, and Wounded Knee, the theft of tribal lands and resources, the breaking of treaties, and the removal of Indian children to boarding schools and so forth – the U.S. preamble was deleted from the final version of the bill.
Too few Americans even know about the Indian Boarding Schools and the U.S. Native American Apology Resolution, let alone include it in the national discourse. It has been said that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it”. Unfortunately, the mistakes of our past are being repeated today. Prime Minister Harper stated that “There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever prevail again.” Because these attitudes of superiority still “prevail” hundreds of Indian children are still being removed from their homes into non-Indian foster care and the promises of sovereign rights plus education, housing and health care are slow in coming to the First Nations in both Canada and the United States.
- To read the full transcript of Prime Minister Harper’s apology, go to: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/04/14/1200994/-Native-schools-and-stolen-generations-U-S-and-Canada#
- For a transcript of the U.S. Native American Apology Resolution – http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:S.J.RES.14