January 14, 2010

Obama's invisible apology

A sorry saga

Obama signs Native American apology resolution; fails to draw attention to it

By Rob Capriccioso
The version signed by Obama became watered down, not making a direct apology from the government, but rather apologizing “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 citizens of the United States.”

Even with the more general language, the apology is historic, but the White House has made no announcements to date about it. Nor has Obama expressed an apology to any tribes or Indian citizens, despite saying on the presidential campaign trail that he thought an apology was warranted.

The resolution Obama signed specifically “urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land.”

So, by signing the document as part of the defense spending bill, did Obama fulfill the resolution? Or, does he have an obligation to say the apology out loud and to let tribes know he signed the resolution?

[White House spokesman Shin Inouye] confirmed that a press release was issued by the White House regarding the president’s signature of the defense appropriations bill, but not one on the apology resolution--nor did the defense release mention that the apology was part of that legislation.

When other countries have apologized for travesties against their own indigenous populations, their leaders have been more up front than the Obama White House to date.
Comment:  This tallies with what we've seen of Obama the candidate and president. He's probably offered more symbolic gestures to Indians than any presidential politician. But as president, he's doing the bare minimum to mollify Indians while not alienating anyone else.

Examples: Talking about settling the West and dissolving tribes in his Inaugural Address. Appointing a Republican Mormon to oversee Indian gaming. Holding a tribal summit that accomplished nothing but a promise of more consultations. Settling the Cobell case for pennies on the dollar. Not signing the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights or addressing Leonard Peltier's case (yet). And burying the US apology to Indians and not mentioning it.

We're still waiting for the first case of Obama's saying or doing something that will clearly please Indians but displease non-Indians. We may have a long wait.

For more on the subject, see The 2008 Presidential Campaign.


Anonymous said...

It has been nearly two years since the Australian Prime Minister apologised to the stolen generations. [12 Feb 2008] These are first nations people who were forcibly removed from their families in the name of ethnic cleansing and assimilation policies designed specifically for Aboriginal people in Australia.
Keven Rudd was happy to claim the momment of the apology as a historica event - for himself. And that is all it will ever be, an event, a sybolic statement, a tearful repentance, an admitance of white guilt. Forget a treaty,forget compensation, forget anything that smells vaguely of a form reparation. Instead we get what our old people were offered when they found themselves dispossessed and on the fringes of white towns and cities - blankets and beads, blankets and beads,given to us with an earnest and sincere smile, or a heartfelt tear. "We are sorry
they say "We are sorry" - Sorry but we won't admit real guilt - just regret". And the beat goes on.

Rob said...

I'm afraid all these national apologies are only symbolic events. That's why I don't take them very seriously.

dmarks said...

Not sure how one can get past symbolism, especially when "real guilt" is mentioned for individuals who weren't there to be involved (and have no guilt).

Rob said...

A government or a society can be guilty even if individuals aren't.

More to the point, these apologies usually express sorrow for a long history of oppression and injustice. That includes legal and moral crimes up to and including the present. People don't have to be sorry for what their ancestors did, but they can be sorry for what they and their representatives are doing now.