Friday, March 7, 2008

Will America Ever Say Sorry?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2008 at 5:39 PM

Why is it that the world's greatest democracy has yet to elect a female president? Why was it three decades behind Britain in abolishing slavery? And when, if ever, will it offer a formal apology to its Native American population?

Australia's recently elected prime minister Kevin Rudd -- who also happens to speak Chinese (when will America elect a president who can do that?) -- apologized to the country's Aborigines for laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss."

The tale of Australia's lost generation -- if you haven't seen Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), go out and rent it -- is a down-under version of the boarding school era in the United States, when so many Native American children were torn away from their parents and forceably assimilated. They literally had their native languages beaten out of them.

In a recent piece in Indian Country Today, Robert Tim Coulter of the Indian Law Resource Center in Helena, Mont. argues that an apology by Congress is necessary, but that " To make a genuine apology ... [it] needs to stop doing the things for which it is apologizing" What does he mean?

It is astonishing to most Americans that Congress and the administration are still taking Indian land and resources - without due process of law and without fair market compensation - sometimes with no compensation at all. The Constitution says that Congress may not take anyone's property except for a public purpose, with due process of law, and with fair market compensation. But these rules are not applied to most land and resources owned by Indian tribes, and the government takes the land and resources at will. Obviously, this is wrong.

A few years ago, Congress confiscated part of the Yurok Nation's reservation in California and turned it over to another tribe. At the time, Congress gloated that it could do this without paying compensation because of ''plenary power,'' a concept that gives Congress complete power over Indian affairs. This power has almost no constitutional limitations that protect basic rights, and Indians are the only people in the United States subjected to it.

Japanese American children in an internment camp in Manzanar, Calif. during WW II. In 1988, the U.S. government formally apologized for its internment policy.

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Japhet Weeks

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