Published on -10/8/2009, 9:05 AM
If you ever want to apologize for the sins of your father, his father or maybe even his great-great-great-great-grandfather's father, the U.S. Capitol is the place to go. Congress is making a habit of begging forgiveness for this country's past behavior. Or at least acknowledging our predecessors did not always make the best decisions.
Congress has apologized to Japanese-Americans because we put them in internment camps during World War II, to the former Kingdom of Hawaii for overthrowing its government and claiming the land for ourselves, and to African-Americans for decades of slavery and segregation. It appears we'll say we're sorry to American Indians next.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved such a resolution as part of a defense spending bill. The official statement, which was introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., indicates remorse for years of ill-conceived policies and acts of violence toward American Indians.
"Hopefully," Brownback said, "this apology will help restore the relationship between the United States and Native Americans."
With all due respect to the senator, we're not as hopeful.
Apologizing for misdeeds that took place centuries ago strikes us as rather short on substantive meaning. The broken promises and treaties, massacres, thefts and forced relocations are all in the past. Present-day conditions on purposefully isolated reservations include extreme rates of poverty, crime, illiteracy, infant mortality and substance abuse. The Senate resolution does not address any of these modern problems.
Replacing yesteryear's beads and trinkets with today's casinos and bingo halls should not be enough to rectify the wrongs of our forefathers. Neither should saying we're sorry.
American Indians need reparations, not apologies. Same for Japanese-Americans, Hawaiians and black Americans.
And they don't need it in the form of cash payments. They need it in specific programs, laws and mindsets that eliminate the possibility of future acts of prejudice. They need it in the form of education that continues decreasing our fear, mistrust and hate of "others." They need it in legal vows not to seize any more territories for our own expansionist desires. They need it in the actual practice of equality for all.
Deeds, not words, are needed.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry