WASHINGTON - Legislation that would offer a formal apology to American Indians for centuries of government mistreatment and neglect received a warm reception at a Senate committee hearing Wednesday.
Introduced last month by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., the resolution would apologize for the "many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on Native peoples by citizens of the United States."
"While we cannot erase the record of our past, I am confident that we can acknowledge our past failures, express sincere regrets and work toward establishing a brighter future for all Americans," Brownback told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
The resolution recounts the long history of government mistreatment of American Indians, including forced relocation, the outlawing of traditional religions and destruction of sacred sites.
Edward Thomas, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, called the issue a distraction from the true problems facing American Indians, such as what he called "Third World conditions" in Native communities and the erosion of tribal rights.
Congress rarely apologizes for official government conduct. Exceptions include a 1993 apology to Native Hawaiians for the unlawful overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and a 1988 apology to Japanese Americans placed in detention camps during World War II.
Efforts to win an apology for slavery have failed to gain momentum in Congress.
Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, called the apology "a long time coming" and urged Congress to recognize continuing problems in Indian relations with the U.S. government.
"Tribal leaders have cautioned that the apology will be meaningless if it is not accompanied by actions that begin to correct the wrongs of the past and the present," Hall said.
Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said he would help Brownback steer the resolution to the full Senate so it can be considered for a vote. The committee passed the resolution last year, but the Senate never acted on it.
"Reviewing the history of this government's treatment of Native peoples makes painfully obvious that the government has repeatedly broken its promises and caused great harm to the nation's original inhabitants," McCain said.
A similar resolution has been introduced in the House by Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va.