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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: U.S. May Apologize To Indian Tribes by Dave Ranney

Throughout most of its history, the United States has not been kind to the American Indian. Atrocity followed atrocity.

That bothers U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback.

The Kansas Republican is co-sponsoring a resolution that, if passed, would serve as a formal apology for the centuries of wrongdoing.

"This is a resolution of apology and a resolution of reconciliation," Brownback said in a statement accompanying the resolution.

For there to be reconciliation, he wrote, "there must be recognition and repentance."

The resolution's supporters hope to get it through the Senate in June and out of the House in time for the Sept. 21 inauguration of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Other co-sponsors include Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colorado, a Northern Cheyenne and the only American Indian in Congress, and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

Nighthorse and Inouye are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Other than a recent resolution condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, Congress has not passed an official apology since 1993, when both chambers apologized to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii 100 years earlier.

That Brownback is pushing the resolution surprised the National Congress of American Indians, an advocacy group representing more than 250 tribes.

"At first, I wondered what he was up to," said Jacqueline Johnson, the association's executive director. "But he has assured me that he is a student of history and this is something that's always bothered him. He wants the country to at least acknowledge the past, not to sweep it under the rug."

In the past, Brownback has voted against American Indian interests on gambling issues.

Johnson said Brownback asked the NCAI to solicit American Indian opinion on the resolution.

"Generally, I think people are supportive -- as far as it goes," she said. "But a lot of us wish it said more. It doesn't, for example, address any of the current issues facing Indian Country."

Johnson noted that health clinics in American Indian communities receive less federal aid than clinics in non-Indian communities.

"And look at education," she said. Bureau of Indian Affairs "schools get less than half the funding that public schools get."

Also, census data show that counties within or part of American Indian reservations are the poorest in the nation.

"A lot of us support the resolution," Johnson said, "because it's a step in the right direction."

Brownback could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"He would love to talk to you about this, but he's on a plane" from California to Washington, D.C., said Brownback spokesman Aaron Groote.

Groote said Brownback's support for the resolution stemmed, in part, from his reading John Dawson's "Healing America's Wounds," a faith-based book on reconciliation.

"This is something he thinks needs to happen for the country to move forward," Groote said. "And the timing was right."

Dan Wildcat, an American Indian studies instructor at Haskell Indian Nations University, read the four-page resolution Wednesday.

"I am impressed," he said. "I have to admit that I tend to disagree with Senator Brownback more often than I agree with him, but on this I have to say he has done a good job. I am impressed. This is definitely a step in the right direction."

Wildcat said he hoped President Bush backed the resolution.

"I appreciate what Senator Brownback and the others have done," Wildcat said. "But I have always thought that something like this needs to come from the president."

Note: This article first appeared at The lawrence Journal-World

Copyright 2004 The Lawrence Journal-World. All rights reserved

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

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