1993 Clinton Apology
Courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library
President Bill Clinton signs legislation apologizing for the U.S. role in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

7 Apologies Made to American Indians

Tanya H. Lee

The people in Bemidji, Minnesota are on a path to reconciliation between whites and American Indians.

RELATED: Imagining Reconciliation: Bemidji Group Works Toward Common Ground

This isn’t the first time reconciliation efforts have been made. Here are examples of 7 other times.

In 1993, a joint resolution of Congress apologizing to Native Hawaiians was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The resolution “apologizes to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States, and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination.”

Kevin Gover, Pawnee, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Department of Interior, offered this apology in 2000 on behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the ceremony acknowledging the 175th anniversary of the agency’s founding: “Let us begin by expressing our profound sorrow for what this agency has done in the past. Just like you, when we think of these misdeeds and their tragic consequences, our hearts break and our grief is as pure and complete as yours. We desperately wish that we could change this history, but of course we cannot. On behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I extend this formal apology to Indian people for the historical conduct of this agency.”

The following apology was included in an appropriations bill signed into law on December 19, 2009, by President Barack Obama. The president “apologizes 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.”

RELATED: A Sorry Saga: Obama Signs Native American Apology

In 2014, the city of Eureka, California, drafted an apology to the Wiyot tribe for the 1860 massacre on Indian Island, during which 200 sleeping Wiyot, including women and children, were slaughtered. The City Council removed the apology part of the letter for fear of opening itself up to liability and substituted language acknowledging that the Wiyot people had been massacred but not stating who was responsible.

View North from Woodley Island Marina at end of Startare Drive showing National Register Marker with Indian Island shell midden on other side of channel. There is no public access to Indian Island itself, it can only be seen from Samoa Bridge, Woodley Island or a boat. The 1860 Wiyot Massacre happened there. (Ellin Beltz/Wikimedia Commons)

RELATED: Eureka Offers 'Support' Not Apology to Wiyot Tribe

Also in 2014, at the 150th commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre, where up to 200 members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes were killed at a peaceful camp by Colonel John Chivington’s volunteers, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, said, “On behalf of the State of Colorado, I want to apologize… To the runners, to the Tribal Leaders, and to all of the Indigenous people—and the proud and painful legacy you all represent—On behalf of the good, peaceful and loving people of Colorado, I want to say, I am sorry for the atrocity that our government and its agents visited upon your ancestors.”

In December 2014, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper offered an apology for what happened at the Sand Creek Massacre. (CATV 47)

RELATED: Video: Watch Colorado Governor's Sand Creek Apology

Within faith communities, in 1991, the United Church of Christ apologized for its part in the 1863 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lil’uokalani, and annexation of Hawaii as a U.S. territory. Both the Mennonite and Episcopal churches have moved toward apologies, the former by confessing in 1992 complicity in the oppression of and taking of land from Native Americans, the latter by repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery in 2008. In 1996, Methodists apologized to the Cheyenne and Arapaho people for the Sand Creek Massacre, because, the church stated, Col. John Chivington was a lay Methodist minister.

In 2007, Spain and the Netherlands, at a ceremony in Virginia, apologized to the Powhatan Indian Nation and to the Iroquois Nation.

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