June 11, 2007

Powhatans and Spaniards apologize

Sorry About That No. 2Public apologies to Native Americans for wrongs done to them are not uncommon--and doubtless well deserved; but mea culpas from Native Americans themselves are rarer. Last week, there actually was an exchange of apologies between the Powhatan Indian nation and Spain. It happened in Fredericksburg, Va., where the local press quoted an official of the embassy of Spain in Washington as saying Spain was sorry for "the terrible impact colonization had on [Native American] society," and expressed hope "that we can feel better 400 years later." Then the Powhatan nation apologized for killing four Spanish Jesuit missionaries in 1571.

The previous year, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Father Juan Bautista Segura had led a mission consisting of himself, Father Luis de Quiros, and two novices to what was to become Virginia. The group came from Florida, where the Spanish presence was already well established, and their aim was to bring Christianity to the Powhatans. But the tribe killed the missionaries and wiped out the mission. A Spanish punitive expedition against the Powhatans avenged the Jesuits' death a couple of years later, but the incident discouraged the Spaniards from extending their settlements so far north, leaving Virginia and Maryland to the English to colonize.

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