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Oklahoma Indian leaders applaud BIA Apology

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Several Oklahoma Indian leaders applauded a speech by Kevin Gover, the head of the BIA, that included an apology for the agency's "legacy of racism and inhumanity" toward American Indian tribes.

"The first step of healing is the acknowledgment of the truth," said Chad Smith, chief of the Cherokee Nation, which with more than 210,000 members, is America's largest Indian tribe.

Like other tribes in Oklahoma, the Cherokees' state roots were founded after an 1830s forced march from the southeastern United States in a journey known as "The Trail of Tears."

Smith said the "second step of healing is to provide the dignity and respect that all classes and races deserve."

In saying that he applauds the secretary's comments, Smith said the Cherokee Nation has "always kept the door open with mutual respect to building healthy partnerships" with the BIA.

"I'm glad this is the end of more than 100 years of ethnicidal policies," Smith said.

Greg Pyle, chief of the Choctaw Nation, said he, too, was glad the BIA is now working with the tribes to better the lives of American Indians.

The Choctaw Nation was the first of the Five Civilized Tribes - the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles - to be force marched to what is now Oklahoma, Pyle said.

"Our tribe's forced march ... began in 1831 during the worst winter on record," he said. "In spite of the terrible conditions and tremendous ordeals, the Choctaw Nation was able to survive and is still flourishing."

In 1970, Pyle said, the BIA "reversed 200 years of federal domination by allowing Indian tribes to be self-sufficient."