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Colorado Native nonprofit group begins reconciliation journey

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DENVER – Colorado is building a history of revisiting the intergenerational trauma of colonization and of apologizing for the attempted annihilation of Native peoples in North America.

The apologies began in 2007 at a dedication at Sand Creek in Colorado, where Cheyenne and Arapaho people were massacred in 1864, and continued through a 2008 resolution in the State Legislature. Now, the cross country 2009 Journey for Forgiveness will address the trauma of boarding school experiences.

White Bison Inc., which operates Wellbriety, a Native nonprofit sobriety program in Colorado Springs, is preparing for the Journey’s kickoff May 16 and has contacted the offices of Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., for legislative support.

Both lawmakers recently proposed a formal apology for the federal government’s atrocities against Indian people, but neither includes funding for any claims settlement – nor does the journey, which is to “promote a collective healing of all Americans for this tragic chapter in our nation’s history.”

Don Coyhis, president and founder of White Bison, said Brownback’s office has been contacted for support to get a petition on the Senate floor that would ask President Obama to endorse a formal apology to Indian country for boarding school atrocities and intergenerational trauma.

He said Brownback’s willingness to speak at the journey’s end at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. will also be sought. Brownback initially introduced his own resolution in 2005, but it was attached to the stalled Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

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Making the journey is a petition signed by hundreds of supporter requesting that the president “join the leaders of Canada and Australia by apologizing to First Nations people here for what was allowed to happen to children at the schools, and for the scars of hurt and pain that it left on generations of Native American people.”

Nearly 500 boarding schools were founded by the U.S. government to assimilate Native people, and the atrocities documented there are blamed for the “alarming levels of suicides, substance abuse, domestic violence and child sexual abuse in Native American communities,” the petition states.

The 7,000-mile journey will begin at Chemewa Indian School, Salem, Ore. and end with closing ceremonies the week of June 22 at NMAI, where the petition will be read and a healing ceremony conducted. Along the way, similar ceremonies will be held at about 22 boarding schools, some of which are still open.

Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, Kan. is including the journey as one of its 125th anniversary commemorative events.

Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Colo., a citizen of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, in 2008 sponsored a resolution that offered a non-binding apology to Native America for the North American holocaust. It passed, but drew the ire of some state senators who said it failed to acknowledge instances of peaceful coexistence.

This year, instead of a resolution condemning Indian genocide, Williams and the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs coordinated a resolution honoring the three Ute tribal nations that live or have lived in what is now the state of Colorado. She also discussed U.S. government policies during Genocide Awareness Month in March.