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Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

An Apology to Native Peoples of the United States was signed into law in 2010, included on page 3,453 of the 3,475-page-long Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

The language of the law is brief.

“Congress recognizes there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the federal government regarding tribes,” it states.

Passed during President Barack Obama’s tenure in office, it “recognizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by the citizens of the United States.”

The apology landed with a mysterious, unacknowledged thud and has essentially been ignored and forgotten ever since. No president has ever presented the apology in public nor read its words publicly, as noted by the Washington Post.

Now, former Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, who drafted the apology and worked diligently to get it passed in 2010, is launching an effort to champion the law and convince President Joe Biden to formally recognize it with a ceremony at the White House.

In these times of calls for racial reckoning, as news emerges of the discoveries of thousands of remains of Indigenous children who died at boarding schools in Canada and the U.S., a public apology with no strings attached seems like a win-win all around.

The language in the law even includes a disclaimer, noting that “nothing in this section authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

It turns out that the history of the law, however, includes an unusual past that may have contributed to its ongoing political obscurity.

‘Spiritual warfare’

Brownback, a former governor of Kansas, was appointed as ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump. A Catholic, Brownback is currently a fellow for the Center for Religious Liberty at the Catholic University of America.

Former U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback is pushing for the U.S. to publicly acknowledge an apology approved  during the Obama administration. While governor of Kansas, as shown here, Brownback signed a proclamation apologizing to Kansas's Indigenous people in 2011. (Photo courtesy of the Kansas governor's office)

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a proclamation apologizing to Kansas's Native American tribes November 17.

Brownback is also closely linked with the New Apostolic Reformation, a charismatic, evangelical Christian movement deeply committed to proselytizing both ultra-conservative politics and “spiritual warfare” techniques that include demonization of Native American spirituality as a means to open the way for global evangelism.

Lou Engle, founder of TheCall Ministries and former member of the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders of the New Apostolic Reformation has worked with Brownback on the Native American apology. In his huge TheCall rallies, Engle condemns abortion and gay rights claiming that gay people are controlled by demonic spirits.

During “TheCall Detroit” rally, a group of Christian pastors denounced Engle’s message as “un-Christian, “un-American” and “idolatrous.”

According to Brownback, his work with Engle is limited to forwarding the apology to Native Americans. In response to Kansas Democratic Party questions about his connections with Engle, Brownback said, “They should know that Lou said things I don’t agree with.”

Brownback shared an apartment with Engle in Washington, D.C, in 2000 and said they have worked together on a few issues, including the apology.

In a zoom interview with Indian Country Today, Brownback refuted any connection with the tenets of the New Apostolic Reformation.

Dominionism, or the New Apostolic Reformation, is linked to the “kill the gays” bill recognized by the Ugandan Parliament. The New York Times reported that it was American evangelical missionaries like Scott Lively associated with the Reformation who have preached anti-gay messages in Africa. Lively and his Abiding Truth Ministries faced possible fines for persecuting LGBTQ people abroad, a crime against humanity under international law.

The Reformation, according to Rachel Tabachnick of Talk To Action, is an example of the growing power of more extreme elements of the religious right in the U.S.

The New Apostolic Reformation followers seek dominion over politics, culture and all aspects of daily life as a means to fulfill the Great Commission, a Christian mandate from the Gospel of Matthew to “make disciples of all the nations and baptize them.” Reformation leaders’ version of the Great Commission pushes an ultra-conservative religious and political agenda that opposes women’s reproductive freedom and gay rights, and pushes the idea that heterosexual Christian men are called by God to exercise dominion over secular society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.

According to the Daily Beast, the Apology to Native Americans is aimed at removing barriers that prevent non-White people from becoming evangelical Christians and forwarding the Reformation agenda to create a theocracy headed by its leaders.

These barriers, according to Engle, are demons called Baal, Leviathan and the Queen of Heaven, fed by sins committed by Native peoples’ ancestors or sins committed against them or both. In order for the sins to be removed, there must first be ceremonies of apology and reconciliation. The Daily Beast describes Brownback’s apology to Native Americans as an exorcism.

A move to reconciliation

Brownback has appeared at numerous Reformation events, including a prayer vigil hosted in 2011 by then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is involved in a Reformation spiritual warfare network that professes to fight witches and witchcraft and promotes a religiously based wealth-transfer scheme as a means to implement theocracy, a governmental system in which leaders are regarded as guided by the divine.

On The Apology website in which Brownback promotes a movement encouraging public and official federal recognition of the apology law, an embedded short film explaining the movement includes end credits featuring Engle, whose Kansas City church also helped sponsor Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” law.

The Apology website and film also feature Negiel Bigpond, a citizen of the Yuchi tribe, a longtime friend and associate of Brownback. Bigpond is co-founder of Two Rivers Native American Training Center, a Reformation-affiliated organization that trains people for spiritual warfare and land redemption. Bigpond describes his own experience as a student at the Chilocco Indian School, a federal Indian boarding school in Oklahoma.

“I just felt like it was time the Native people receive an apology from this nation, “ he told the Washington Post. “I believe it would help — not so much that we would get granted great finances and buy the land back or anything like that. It was a spiritual thing.”

In the convoluted dominionist vision for world domination, Brownback’s apology to Native Americans will drive out demons associated with traditional Native spirituality, pave the way for Native people to embrace dominionism and ultimately lead to a global theocracy led by dominionists.

In a zoom interview with Indian Country Today, Brownback  said he spent years working to establish a free-standing apology bill and finally settled for attaching the law to the defense spending bill.

“The goal of the apology is reconciliation, although it doesn’t end the process,” he said. “It lances the boil so healing can start. You have to acknowledge the wrong before healing can start.”

Brownback said that when he first introduced the apology bill in 2009, the National Congress of the American Indians supported it, as did Bryan Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota who was chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Neither Dorgan nor NCAI leadership provided comments to Indian Country Today when asked about Brownback’s current efforts to push for a public apology.

The White House also declined to comment.

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