UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Before accepting a Congressional resolution apologizing
for past government misdeeds toward Indians, delegates at the National
Congress of American Indians mid-year session had one question: Would it
include a future apology for the bad things the government was doing right
In an angry floor speech, Barry Dana, chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation
in Maine, reported that his island reservation was the victim of a
questionable Environmental Protection Agency decision weakening clean water
controls on the river named for his tribe. "We want to go forward with a
partnership," he said, "but it's extremely difficult when the tribes are
the only party living up to the treaty."
"An apology is just words on paper," he said.
Halfway through Dana apologized for his emotion. "I'm venting here," he
said. But he had a highly sympathetic audience, both from NCAI officers on
the dais overlooking the huge ballroom of the Mohegan Sun Convention Center
and from other tribal delegates at the four-day NCAI meeting.
NCAI Treasurer Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe in
Washington state, called the Congressional action "the right first step."
But he added, "We have a long way to go. Indian people are still being left
behind in this country. On this, the 80th anniversary of the Indian
Citizenship Act, one would think things would be better."
He said the senators sponsoring the resolution "are good people, and valued
friends of the tribes. But no one should think that these apologies to the
tribes will, in any way, wipe the slate clean."
Apology bills in both the Senate and House of Representatives are intended
to "acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived
policies by the United States government regarding Indian tribes, and offer
an apology to all Native Peoples." The Senate version, S.J.RES.37, is
sponsored by U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan, Daniel K. Inouye, D.-Hawaii
and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R.-Colo.
But tribal leaders called for a full accounting of the abuses in the
relations between Indian and non-Indian governments.
"Putting forth an apology while doing nothing to solve these problems is
just not adequate," said Edward K. Thomas, NCAI regional vice-president for
Alaska and chairman of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida tribes.
Jefferson Keel, NCAI regional vice president for eastern Oklahoma and
Lieutenant Governor of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, said that an
apology would be hollow until monetary repatriations are addressed.
For just a short list of ongoing violations, delegates mentioned intrusions
on tribal sovereignty, under-funding of treaty-mandated Indian programs and
the evasion of responsibility for fixing the trust management system.
In the end, the session did not adopt a resolution on the Congressional