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History of Apology

The Apologies Time Line

(download in pdf format)

 “We Are Sorry”

The fourth gift of the Sacred, 100 Eagle Feather Hoop is the Power to Forgive the Unforgivable.  The abilities to both apologize and to forgive one another stand as great personal gifts of healing.  I’m sorry, please forgive me can express the desire between individuals and nations alike to reconcile differences and re-enter life together after periods of conflict and struggle.  Yes, I forgive you can be said in words or expressed in behaviors without words.  In our traditions and customs there are also ways to apologize and forgive in ceremonies without specific words but with the same feelings and purpose. 

However we express them, apology and forgiveness are gatekeepers to open doors that have been closed for too long.  They can open a gate that allows good work to follow between people who have things in common as well as differences.  Apology and forgiveness can open a door that is just the beginning of a further relationship.

Apologizing and forgiving act in the unseen world of thoughts, feelings and spirituality.  That is their greatest purpose and strength.  But they often become part of organizational and political processes in the seen world, and that is OK as long as we remember that the real healing starts in the unseen world.  The real strength of apology and forgiveness is personal. 

Many public apologies and reconciliations have taken place in the last half-century or so.  Here is a listing of some public apologies that express good spirit and intent in different societies and cultures.  Its purpose is to give the reader a feeling for the four-directions life of the apology process.  If readers know of others that should be on this list please let us know.

For our healing as Native people in the U.S., maybe the greatest examples in this listing are the recent apologies of both Australia and Canada to their indigenous peoples in 2008.  Then in December of 2009 the American government took the first step towards being the third Western nation to apologize to its Native people.  It was only a first step because it was never made publicly and openly.  And it did not mention the details of the boarding school era in the U.S. and how those boarding school wounds have been passed down the generations and are still responsible for the disparities between Native communities and the rest of Turtle Island. 

We offer this brief listing with the hope and desire that our President take the next step with the Act he signed on December 19, 2009.  We ask him to apologize openly to all the American people, on behalf of the United States, for what was done to our Native people.  We hope he will also include the role that the boarding school era has had in our social problems as a people today.  We hope he will say, Yes this was all done to you, and we apologize.  We are sorry.  With Creator’s help, we know he can, and trust that he will.

White Bison, Inc.

Please visit www.whitebison.org for more information about the Boarding School Apology Initiativeand how you may participate.

Apologies Time Line
A summary of some important apologies and reconciliations
from 1950 to the present

October 1, 2010
United States apologizes to Guatemala for medical experiments from 1946-1948

On October 1, 2010, the world learned that during an experimental study between 1946 and 1948 the United States infected more than 1,600 Guatemalan people with sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) : syphilis, gonorrhea and chancres.  Within days of this news coming to light, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a joint apology stating, "We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices.  The conduct exhibited during the study does not represent the values of the United States, or our commitment to human dignity and great respect for the people of Guatemala."

December 19, 2009
U.S. Passes a law that includes an Apology to Native peoples.  Never presented formally or publicly to Native Americans or the public.  

A Resolution of Apology to the Native Peoples of the United States was attached to H.R. 3326, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010.  The President of the United States signed it, but he never presented it publicly to the American people.  It says, in part,

Sec. 8113. (a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress--

 (3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;

(4) 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;

(6) 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.

July 17, 2009
Episcopal Church repudiates and renounces the Christian Doctrine of Discovery

At its General Convention in Anaheim, California, the Episcopal Church in America formally renounced the infamous Doctrine of Discovery that claimed superiority and dominance over the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere in the colonization period beginning in 1492. This is an act of reconciliation that can proceed a full apology and a healing of the church-indigenous relationship.  The resolution states, in part:

“Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention repudiates and renounces the Doctrine of Discovery as fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God, and that this declaration be proclaimed among our churches and shared with the United Nations and all the nations and peoples located within The Episcopal Church's boundaries. This doctrine, which originated with Henry VII in 1496, held that Christian sovereigns and their representative explorers could assert dominion and title over non-Christian lands with the full blessing and sanction of the Church. It continues to be invoked, in only slightly modified form, in court cases and in the many destructive policies of governments and other institutions of the modern nation-state that lead to the colonizing dispossession of the lands of indigenous peoples and the disruption of their way of life.”

June 11, 2008
An Apology to the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada (2008)

This definitive apology to First Nations people was issued by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of the government of Canada.  It says, in part,

“The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history.  The legacy of Indian Residential Schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today.  The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing and reconciliation.  Therefore, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this Chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to Aboriginal peoples for Canada’s role in the Indian Residential Schools system.  The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.

We are sorry

Nous le regrettons

April 17, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI makes a gesture of reconciliation to Native American peoples

Pope Benedict XVI, in his first papal mass in the United States, acknowledged the injustices faced by Native Americans since the founding of this country when talking about the promise of hope the U.S. has to offer.  "To be sure, this promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land; one thinks of the injustices endured by the Native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves," he said.

February 13, 2008
Australian Government Apologizes to Indigenous Peoples in Australia

The new Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, on behalf of the Australian government, apologizes to Australian indigenous people for the stolen generations as well as for the legacy of harmful behavior of the government towards Australian Native peoples.  For the opening words of the apology he said,

“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We, the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.”

June, 2007
Spain and the Netherlands Apologize

Spain, and the Netherlands, separately, at a ceremony in Fredicksburg, Virginia, apologized to the Powhattan Indian Nation and to the Iroquois Nation, respectively, injured by their actions in historical, colonial times.  An official of the embassy of Spain in Washington is quoted as saying Spain was sorry for "the terrible impact colonization had on Native American society," and expressed hope "that we can feel better 400 years later." 

At the same ceremony, an official from the Netherlands embassy apologized to the Iroquois.  Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock tribe said the Dutch had been "using the drug of alcohol to secure land to take advantage of Native Americans, and I believe that's the root of alcohol addiction among Native American people."

September 8, 2000
Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, Apologizes for BIA Behavior

Kevin Gover (Pawnee Nation) voiced an apology for the 175 years of misdeeds of the Bureau of Indian Affairs at a ceremony acknowledging the 175th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC on September 8, 2000.  He was clear to say that he did not speak for the government of the United States, but that his words did reflect the hearts of its 10,000 employees.  In making an apology on behalf of the BIA he said,

“I do not speak today for the United States.  That is the province of the nation's elected leaders, and I would not presume to speak on their behalf.  I am empowered, however, to speak on behalf of this agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and I am quite certain that the words that follow reflect the hearts of its 10,000 employees.

“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.  And while the BIA employees of today did not commit these wrongs, we acknowledge that the institution we serve did.  We accept this inheritance, this legacy of racism and inhumanity.  And by accepting this legacy, we accept also the moral responsibility of putting things right.”

Pope John Paul II Issues Diverse Apologies on Behalf of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Pope included the indigenous people of the area known as Oceania (south Pacific, including Australia) in a series of apologies issued from 1998 through 2001.  In the 1998 Synod of Oceania he said, “Whenever the truth has been suppressed by governments and their agencies or even by Christian communities, the wrongs done to the indigenous peoples need to be honestly acknowledged.  …The Church expresses deep regret and asks forgiveness where her children have been or still are party to these wrongs.  …The past cannot be undone, but honest recognition of past injustices can lead to measures and attitudes that will help to rectify the damaging effects for both the indigenous community and the wider society."  His apology also included overtures to women, Jews and the Roma people (Gypsies), a European indigenous people.

Methodists Apologize to Black Churches

The United Methodist Church apologized to black churches that left the Methodist church because of pervasive racial discrimination.  In addition, they apologized to black United Methodists who still face racial prejudice.  Delegates and visitors to the United Methodist General Conference in May 2000 participated in an Act of Repentance for Reconciliation.  Apologies were made for acts of racism that prompted the creation of separate black denominations and also for segregated units in the predominately white Methodist Church from 1939 to 1968.

1998 – 2000
Lutheran Church of Norway Apologizes to Roma Peoples

In 1998, the General Synod of the Church of Norway received a report of a long-term dialogue between representatives of the Roma (Gypsy) people and the church Council on Ecumenical Relations.  The Roma are a European indigenous people.  In the light of that report, the General Synod in the name of the church confessed and asked for forgiveness: "We have a sin and shame that we can not carry further.  Therefore we ask on behalf of our church: Forgive us our sins."

Continued dialogue between the Church of Norway and the Roma People led to reconsideration by the 2000 General Synod.  The synod unanimously decided to ask the Roma People for forgiveness for the injustice and the violations perpetuated against them by the Church of Norway.  The Church has since committed itself to helping the Roma People of Norway reclaim their own culture.  A reconciliation process in which "the offenders let the victims define what is necessary for a real restitution" indicates the approach the church is taking to continue dealing with its historical wrongs against the Roma People.

Canada Apologizes to its Native Peoples (1998)

Canada apologizes to its Native peoples for past acts of oppression, including decades of abuse at federally funded residential schools whose goal was to sever Indian and Inuit youths from their culture and assimilate them in white society.  This 1998 apology is the precursor to the definitive 2008 apology.  In part it said,

"The government of Canada acknowledges the role it played in the development and administration of these schools.  Particularly to those individuals who experienced the tragedy of physical and sexual abuse at residential schools, and who have carried this burden believing that in some way they must be responsible, we wish to emphasize that what you experienced was not your fault and should never have happened.  For those of you who suffered this tragedy, we are deeply sorry."

U.S. apologizes for the Tuskegee Experiment

U.S. President Bill Clinton apologizes to survivors of the Tuskegee Experiment, a government backed study from 1932-1972 in which 399 poor African American men were injected with syphilis and monitored for its effects.

Methodists Apologize for the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado in 1863.

The General Council of The United Methodist Church in the United States extended apologies to the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples and asked for forgiveness for the death of over 200 persons, mostly women and children, who died in the state of Colorado in the Sand Creek Massacre on November 29, 1863.  It was especially motivated to make this apology because Col. John Chivington, the man who led the massacre, was a lay Methodist minister at the time of the massacre.  The 1996 Methodist Church Resolution said in part,

“Therefore, be it resolved, that this body of the 1996 General Conference extend to all Cheyenne and Arapaho a hand of reconciliation and ask forgiveness for the death of over 200 persons, mostly women and children, who died in this state where this great conference is being held; and

“Be it further resolved, that The United Methodist Church offer at this General Conference a healing service of reconciliation, asking that tribal leaders, elders, and spiritual leaders come and sit with us, pray with us, and bless us; and let us heal the past and offer to one another the gifts with which God (Ma-Hay-O) has blessed each of us, acknowledging that racism is a sin, but also seeing one another as whole people who need one another, as we acknowledge that we also need God.”

Wellness Author Marianne Williamson Apologizes to Native Americans 

Popular wellness author Marianne Williamson apologized to both Native Americans and African Americans in a book entitled, Illuminata: Thoughts, Prayers, Rites of Passage.  The apologies were made in the form of prayers in two separate sections of the book called Amends to the African American and Amends to the Native American.  These apologies were coming from Ms. Williamson as an individual, but they also carried the larger dimension as coming from white people, the perpetrator group when referenced to Native American and African American people.

The Native American Apology said, in part,

“To the nations of the Native American Indians, as a citizen of the United States I say, please forgive me and please forgive us.  On behalf of my ancestors and the group conscience of all America, I deeply apologize for the wrongs, so cruel, that have been inflicted upon your people.”

U.S. Apologizes to Native Hawaiians

Congress apologized to Native Hawaiians for helping overthrow the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.

South Africa Apologizes for Apartheid

South African President F.W. de Klerk apologizes for apartheid, marking the first time a white leader in the country expressed regret for the system of legalized segregation that allowed five million whites to dominate thirty million blacks.

The United Church of Christ Apologizes to the Indigenous People of Hawaii

The national General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC), issued a formal apology to the people of Hawaii for the church’s “complicity” during the U.S. military’s 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lil’uokalani, and later annexation of Hawaii as a U.S. territory.

The Soviet Union Apologizes for World War II Atrocity

The Soviet Union apologizes for the murder of thousands of imprisoned Polish officers shot during World War II and buried in mass graves in the Katyn Forest.

U.S. Government Apologizes to Japanese-Americans for World War II Internment Camps

The U.S. Congress passes a law apologizing to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II and offering $20,000 payments to survivors.  Pays a total of $1.2 billion in reparations.

Germany Apologizes to Jews for World War II Atrocities

West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer acknowledges the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust, and the following year Germany agrees to pay reparations to Israel.  In 1990, the then East German Parliament issues an apology to Israel and all Jews and others who suffered.

White Bison, Inc.

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