Native activist raises awareness of apology

2010 bill recognized government depredations, ill-conceived policies

Navajo activist Mark Charles speaks to Fort Lewis College students about an apology from the federal government to Native Americans that will be read Dec. 19 on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. The apology is included in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Navajo activist Mark Charles speaks to Fort Lewis College students about an apology from the federal government to Native Americans that will be read Dec. 19 on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. The apology is included in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

A Navajo activist stopped at Fort Lewis College on Wednesday in an effort to publicize a little-known apology issued by the federal government to Native Americans.

Mark Charles hosted a public reading and talk about the 2010 Native American Apology Resolution, included in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

The reading at the FLC Native American Center Conference Room came as part of his effort to raise a national discussion and awareness of the apology.

Charles has been giving public presentations nationwide for the last eight months to raise awareness of the congressional apology and what he believes is an insufficient approach to reconciliation by the federal government.

“I think our native elders deserve to know this has been given, and people deserve to hear about it,” he said. “Since our leaders aren’t doing it, I’m going to do it.”

The Native American Apology Resolution, in the appropriations act sponsored by former Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., was put forward “to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.”

The resolution officially 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” and offers a “commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters”

Charles’ greatest concern is the resolution was signed with little fanfare by the government, leaving Native Americans mostly unaware of its existence. Charles said he did not know of the resolution until two years after the bill’s passage.

“This speaks to me that the country is not ready to apologize for the treatment of Native People,” he said.

Charles also called the language in the bill “very general.” It does not mention any specific tribes or instances of injustice by the federal government, he said.

Those in attendance agreed the bill did not do enough to compensate for the past mistreatment of Native Americans.

“What really bothers me is that they thanked us for the years we have stewarded the land. This is our land. We have more of a connection to it than just being stewards,” said Renassa Lee, a junior at FLC and a member of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe.

The speech comes two weeks before a planned reading and discussion of the resolution Dec. 19 by Charles and other Native Americans in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Through his presentations and readings, Charles says he hopes to raise awareness of the resolution and offer a new national dialogue about reconciliation.

“I am trying to move the conversation of reconciliation forward with our country,” he said.

Sarah Ford is an intern at The Durango Herald and a student at the University of Denver. Reach her at herald@durangoherald.com.

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