Official Apology to the Native Peoples from BIA

28 01 2009

The Government of the United States of America – on knees – officially, got down and said “SORRY”


Title …

How the US came to Apologize … to “the Indians”


It was pure chance. A certain Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior and leader of the USA Bureau of Indian Affairs had written out an apology to ALL Indians. I picked this up somehow. However, he was already packing his bags as the new administration of George W. Bush was coming in, and they would be removing all public reference to this astonishing (and historic) gesture.

With no time to lose — I was about to return to Alaska, to try to pull off the last action of the Second Millennium, no less!! I sent a fax to Washington D.C. {I had scant hope, I never seemed to get back even an acknowledgement in 98% of cases.} Well, I did. And one of the very last orders coming from President Clinton’s government was that the BIA would join me on Point Barrow, Alaska. There, during the last actions of the Second Millennium, they would read, and in public for the only time, America’s historic and indeed brave Apology to the First Nations. Thank you, America.


Words spoken by the BIA prior to the ‘Document of Apology’

On Point Barrow, Alaska during the final actions of the 20th Century / 2nd millennium, 23rd January 2001. At the time of ‘Siqinnaatchiaq’ when the new sun returns. An old Korean War vintage military tent was set off alone, in the snow, and it was here that BIA Alaska director, Niles Cesar and supported by BIA Fairbanks director Sam Demientieff said these words following prior, and prior to delivering the official Apology.

“In March of 1824, President James Monroe established the Office of Indian Affairs in the Department of War. Its mission was to conduct the nation’s business with regard to Indian Affairs. We have come here today to mark the first 175 years of the institution now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

It is appropriate that we do so in the first year of a new century and a new millennium, a time when our leaders are reflecting on what lies ahead and preparing for those challenges. Before looking ahead, though, this institution must first look back and reflect on what it has wrought and, by doing so, come to know that this is no occasion for celebration; rather it is a time for reflection and contemplation, a time for sorrowful truths to be spoken, a time for contrition.

We must first reconcile ourselves to the fact that the works of this agency have at various times profoundly harmed the communities it was meant to serve. From the very beginning, the Office of Indian Affairs was an instrument by which the United States enforced its ambition against the Indian nations and Indian people who stood in its path. And so, the first mission of this institution was to execute the removal of the south eastern tribal nations. By threat, deceit, and force, these great tribal nations were made to march 1,000 miles to the west, leaving thousands of their old, their young and their infirm in hasty graves along the Trail of Tears.

As the nation looked to the West for more land, this agency participated in the ethnic cleansing that befell the western tribes. War necessarily begets tragedy; the war for the West was no exception. Yet, in these more enlightened times, it must be acknowledged that the deliberate spread of disease, the decimation of the mighty bison herds, the use of poison alcohol to destroy mind and body, and the cowardly killing of woman of children made for tragedy on a scale so ghastly that it cannot be dismissed as merely the inevitable consequence of the clash of competing ways of life. This agency and the good peoples in it failed in the mission to prevent the devastation. And so great nations of patriot warriors fell. We will never push aside the memory of unnecessary and violent death at places such as Sand Creek, the banks of the Washita River, and Wounded Knee.

Nor did the consequences of war have to include the futile and destructive efforts to annihilate Indian cultures. After the devastation of tribal economies and the deliberate creation of tribal dependence on the services provided by this agency, this agency set out to destroy all things Indian.

This agency forbade the speaking of Indian languages, prohibited the conduct of traditional religious activities, outlawed traditional government, and made Indian people ashamed of who they were. Worst of all, the Bureau of Indian Affairs committed these acts against the children entrusted to its boarding schools, brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually. Even in this era of self-determination, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs is at long last serving as an advocate for Indian people in an atmosphere of mutual respect, the legacy of these misdeeds haunts us. The trauma of shame, fear and anger has passed from one generation to the next, and manifests itself in the rampant alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence that plague Indian country. Many of our peoples live lives of unrelenting tragedy as Indian families suffer the ruin of lives by alcoholism, suicides made of shame and despair, and violent death at the hands of one another. So many of the maladies suffered today in Indian country result from the failures of this agency. Poverty, ignorance, and disease have been a product of this agency’s work.

And so today I stand before you as the leader of an institution that in the past has committed acts so terrible that they infect, diminish and destroy the lives of Indian people decades later, generations later. These things occurred despite the efforts of many good people with good hearts who sort to prevent them. These wrongs must be acknowledged if the healing is to begin.


This is the Document of USA Apology offered to the Peoples of the First Nations.

This is the Document of USA Apology offered to the Peoples of the First Nations. It was initially displayed on the official US government website for all to see. The Administration following that of President Clinton saw to it that it be removed. It is preserved on this site for the historical record; a United States action of great nobleness, honesty and courage.

I do not speak today for the United States. This 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 a 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.

We therefore begin this important work anew, and make a new commitment to the people and communities that we serve, a commitment born of the dedication we share with you to the cause of renewed hope and prosperity for Indian country. Never again will this agency stand silent when hate and violence are committed against Indians. Never again will we allow policy to proceed from the assumption that Indians possess less human genius than the other races. Never again will we be complicit in the theft of Indian property. Never again will we appoint false leaders who serve purposes other than those of the tribes. Never again will we allow unflattering stereotypical images of Indian people to deface the halls of government or lead the American people to shallow and ignorant beliefs about Indians. Never again will we attack you’re your religions, your languages, your rituals, or any of your tribal ways. Never again will we seize your children, nor teach them to be ashamed of who they are. Never again.

We cannot yet ask your forgiveness, not while the burdens of this agency’s history weigh so heavily on tribal communities. What we do ask is that, together, we allow the healing to begin: As you return to your homes, and as you talk with your people, please tell them that the time of dying is at its end. Tell your children that the time of shame and fear is over. Tell your young men and woman to replace their anger with hope and love for their people. Together we must wipe the tears of seven generations. Together, we must allow our broken hearts to mend. Together we will face a challenging world with confidence and trust. Together, let us resolve that when our future leaders gather to discuss the history of this institution, it will be a time to celebrate the rebirth of joy, freedom and progress for the Indian Nations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was born in 1824 in a time of war on Indian people. May it live in the year 2000 and beyond as an instrument of their prosperity.”

— END —

First spoken by Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary of the Interior – Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., at the Ceremony Acknowledging the 175 Anniversary of the Establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs / September 8, 2000.

Witnessed in tent:- Inupiat Wallaq (William Brown) – Suvaliq (Tony Bryant) – Arnold Brower Jr. – Johnny Brower. Mushuaia Innu Mark Nui (leader, representing First Nations acknowledged the noble gesture with appreciation, but cannot yet accept The Apology until all social indicators become normal / better than normal) – Jake Rich (representing All wounded First Nation Youth). Assemblyman Mike Aamodt – Rabbi Abraham Garmaize (Representing the victory of cultural survival and special witnessing of special declaration that First Nation “are the greatest survivors in History.” Abraham also had with him a century old Torah, one that had survived the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia.) – Norman D. Vaughan (representing History) – John Jumper Bitters (spearheaded the operation) – Academician Boris Krasnopolski (Russia) – Yoshiko Matsumoto, William Bacon III, (representing World War II combat veterans) – Franka Randall III, Hope (Meegan) and of course Regional BIA Director Niles Cesar who delivered the document verbally and supported by BIA director Sam Demientieff.