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The Power of 'Thank You' and 'I'm Sorry'

These are two fundamental, and essential emotions which allow us to live well. I could say function in society, but that seems too clinical. Remorse—to feel sorry, to express regret; (minjinawezid- he is regretful). And, gratitude, migwechiwendam, to be thankful. We need these feelings and emotions, and we need to be able to express them.

I have realized that my own children at times lack these emotions. I witnessed my own teenage sons, and some of my other children at times, being unable to say they are sorry, or not accepting or realizing that their own self–centered behavior effects many other people.

Similarly, I have witnessed more than once a lack of gratitude, inability to say ”thank you” for a gift.

I have always believed that I was raised by gracious parents, and that these are essential expressions—despite the difficulty at times. I make mistakes, and I sometimes forget to be thankful. I do not wish to be a bad parent, yet know that somehow if a generation of children is raised without these emotional skills, things will not go well. And, I think that’s what may be going on.

I have a grandson, who sometimes has had a very difficult time saying he is sorry. He is now 7 years old. When he is asked to, there is sometimes a good deal of pouting which occurs, and then there’s a time out, until the magic words “I’m sorry” come forth from that little pouty guy. Making progress here…

Now, what does this mean in the larger context? It is a societal problem. From an Indigenous perspective, we are keenly aware of it. The 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee was egregious. Three hundred people were killed, many of them stripped of their clothing which was to end up in museum displays. There were 23 Congressional Medals of Honor awarded to the military for this massacre, in which four Hotchkiss guns were used by 500 members of the Seventh Cavalry. (Just as a reference, nine have been issued for the war in Afghanistan.)

When the descendants of the survivors of the Wounded Knee massacre asked then South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle to issue a congressional apology, he said basically, We really can’t do that. If we did that we’d have to apologize to a lot of other people too. So, the US Congress issued a joint resolution which “ expressed regrets." In 1996, essentially the same thing happened with John McCain. South Dakota has since had a Year of Reconciliation or so, but really, this remorse thing has not worked out.

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Then, there is the example of the Chevron Corporation in Ecuador. It is a bit confusing, but let’s say that Chevron buys the Texaco company’s assets in the country, and Texaco has left a large mess, rivers full of oil, toxins in holding ponds, piles of oil garbage, and a lot of people who are not able to eat fish from their rivers, and a lot of people who are sick. (This sounds, unfortunately a bit like Ft. Berthold will look, perhaps in 20 years.)

Anyway, Texaco is bought up by Chevron, and the villagers now have to go after Chevron. After a long legal battle, (which Chevron wanted in Ecuadorian courts), the Courts ruled that Chevron was liable for $9.5 billion in damages. Chevron continued to appeal, and the Court then doubled the fine, suggesting that the lack of remorse by the company, essentially, is causing additional hardship to the plaintiffs, who have been awarded this settlement. Then, as The New York Times notes, “Chevron said …that it had no intention of apologizing for the environmental damage to the Amazon rain forest for which an Ecuadorean court ruled it responsible. Attorneys for both sides have said that if Chevron apologized, its legal liability of $18 billion would have been cut to $9.5 billion.” Chevron’s position: “Chevron does not believe that the Ecuador ruling is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law.”

And, investors, according to business journals,” seem not to believe that the award, the second-largest environmental damages award ever imposed on an oil company, after the $20 billion compensation for victims of the Gulf of Mexico spill agreed by BP, will be paid.” Nice to know.

There we go. That’s Ecuador now, but after watching a number of US corporations declare bankruptcy, and then reorganize, rather than pay these fines, I might be a bit concerned. I might be really concerned if I lived in Ft. Berthold or a few other places .

On gratitude. Well, we are a first world country of the premier kind. This means, we get food from all over the world, we get resources from all over the world; we have health care, lots of malls, lots of gadgets and lots of stuff. And, we usually want more. We shop, pretty consistently – in fact 71 percent of our economy is based on consumption.

But are we grateful? That’s what I’m worried about. My sons have a room full of clothes on the floor, which they will leave there, if I’m not after them. And, shoot, I actually worked to buy those clothes, and it looked like they needed them. But, that’s sort of America, right now. We have a lot of stuff, and we throw out a lot of stuff, and as a society, we make a lot of garbage. I, for one, think it’s a nice planet and I’m grateful to be here. So there ya go, remorse and gratitude, two special words, that we need to remember from Sesame Street, church, or maybe just learn.

Winona LaDuke is an American Indian activist, environmentalist, economist, and writer of Anishinaabe descent.