December 28, 2011

No apologies without remedies

Years ago, a Safeway cashier apologized to Robert Chanate (Kiowa) for past injustices. Now Chanate reflects on the experience.

Apologies on Discount

By Robert ChanateAfter thinking about her apology for a bit, I was somewhat touched because it was an acknowledgement of a historical wrong. Hers was a plea for forgiveness for the crimes committed by her people against mine. Neither of us was alive when the crimes happened, but we were descendants, and therefore symbols of both people. As a symbol, the lady represented those who did not ignore historical injustices but wanted to admit to them as a means for healing and understanding. I felt hopeful knowing there were well-meaning people like the cashier who would try to make things right in the best ways they knew how.

Since that time, I’ve come to rethink what makes an apology acceptable for the people to whom it is being offered. In my encounter with the cashier, what was left out of her apology was any comment about a remedy or resolution for the unjust actions about which she was talking. The remedy seemed to be the apology itself. This oversight is to be expected from the average person on the street (or in a store), but what about people with access to economic and political resources? For the latter group, shouldn’t remedies and resolutions be a part of their apology?

Keeping these apologies focused strictly on the past avoids solutions for the present when the current legal, social, economic and political structures can be obstacles for Native peoples. Those obstacles are a direct result of the historical actions that are the subject of so many apologies.

What I’ve also learned from that first awkward apology was that we Native people should be more active in putting forward solutions for those sympathetic people out there. They can’t solve all of our problems but they can help us out when we provide leadership for goals to which they can contribute. If we cannot describe a plan of action for our non-Native supporters, then about all we can expect are well-meaning words and not much else.
Comment:  This echoes what I've said before about apologies. Indians don't want non-Indians to apologize or feel guilty if it doesn't lead to change. They don't want empty gestures, they want concrete action.

In other words, they don't want to hear that you can't do anything about the past, because they're not talking about the past. They want you to uphold their treaties, fund their services, and protect their rights now.

For more on apologies, see Older than America Screening and Apology for "Pilgrims and Indians" Party.

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