"If the United States can come to terms with its past, maybe it can come to terms with its present," said Osage Nation Chief Jim Grey.
His comments pertained to the formal apology currently making its way through Congress in the form of an amendment to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which passed the Senate late last month.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) has been trying for years to pass a resolution to that effect, which would extend a formal apology from the United States for centuries of treacherous dealings and mistreatment of Native Americans.
"Our nation's relationship with the Native peoples of this land is an issue that is very important to the health of the United States," said the senator in a recent written statement.
"For too much of our history, Federal-Tribal relations have been marked by broken treaties, mistreatment and dishonorable dealings. We can acknowledge our past failures, express sincere regrets, and establish a brighter future for all Americans," he added.
The measure credits Native Americans for having "honored, protected, and stewarded this land we cherish" for thousands of years before European settlement, as well for their "compassion and aid" in the survival of foundational English settlements.
It apologizes for the taking of innocent lives, "including those of women and children," in the numerous armed conflicts between European settlers and Native Americans; as well as for the violation of numerous treaties and diplomatic agreements between the federal government and Indian tribes.
The amendment also references and apologizes for many of the more infamous atrocities inflicted upon Native Americans, such as the Trail of Tears and the massacres at Wounded Knee and Sand Creek.
The measure also urges the President to formally acknowledge the wrongs committed by the federal government against Indian tribes "in order to bring healing to this land," and commends the state governments that have "begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries."
The measure also contains a disclaimer stating that the apology does not authorize or support any claim against the United States, nor does it serve as a settlement of any claim against the U.S.
"This amendment does not diminish the valiance of our American soldiers who fought bravely for their families in wars between the United States and a number of the Indian Tribes," Brownback said when the bill passed the Senate.
"Nor does this amendment cast the blame for the various battles on one side or another. What this apology does do is to recognize and honor the importance of Native Americans to this land and to our nation--in the past and today--and offers this apology to Native peoples for the poor and painful choices our government sometimes made to disregard its solemn word. Hopefully, this apology will help restore the relationship between the United States and Native Americans," he also said.
Oklahoma's Democrat Congressman Dan Boren is sponsoring a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives, which he recently took over after the original sponsor--a congressman from Virginia, passed away.
The Osage chief, for one, called the proposed apology "a really good, healthy recognition."
"We in Indian country have to work under a general perception that the treaties entered into with the federal government disappear with the passage of time, and a general recognition of that is being expressed," said Grey.
"There have been versions of that discussed for years, but it didn't get anywhere. It's obviously a good sign that it passed the Senate, and that this has finally reached the highest levels of government," he added.
Grey also said he doesn't want U.S/tribal relations "to get lost in that particular issue," but said he hopes the apology, if it reaches the President's desk and receives his signature, will be a catalyst for Congress to address present concerns within tribal communities.
"There's still a lot of unfinished work to do," Grey said.
Included in that "unfinished work," he said, is getting better healthcare for Native Americans, better education for their children, curbing high rates of infant mortality, high rates of diabetes, and an overall "sense of lawlessness" on tribal lands.
"Indians suffer from all kinds of social ills," the Osage leader said.
Thompson Gouge, public relations director for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, said his tribe is holding its response in abeyance for the time being until Principal Chief A.D. Ellis and other leaders have a chance to review the language of the apology.
Representatives of the Cherokee Nation told UTW that Principal Chief Chad Smith is currently traveling and is unavailable for comment.
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