Mark Charles stood near the reflecting pool in Washington, DC on Wednesday morning and led a reading of a 2010 US Congressional letter of apology to Native Americans.
Charles, a Christian Reformed Church member, consultant and promoter of Native American rights, organized the reading and has been traveling across the US in the last several months raising awareness of the event.
After holding a moment of silence to commemorate last week’s tragedy at the elementary school in Connecticut, Charles spoke to the 55 or so people, many CRC members, who were there.
He started by sharing his feelings and sketching the background of why they were there.
As he spoke, the dome of the capitol was in the distance behind him.
“There are people who need to know that their country was trying to apologize to them.”
Many of the CRC members, including Calvin College students, traveled to Washington in a chartered bus. Also in attendance were several Native Americans and others.
Artwork created for the event by two Native American artists was on display as well. Native American flute music and singing also took place.
Everyone gathered for the reading to highlight the fact that the apology to Native Americans, signed into law three years ago on Wednesday, was buried on page 45 of the 2010 Defence Appropriations Act.
“Because our leaders were not going to read this apology, we came up with a plan to be here today to read it,” said Charles.
Called The Native American Apology Resolution, the act was sponsored and put forward by former Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., “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.
A majority of the 350 million citizens of the United States do not know they have been apologized for. And most of the five million Indigenous Peoples of this land do not know they have been apologized to, says Charles.
Charles also says that the apology isn’t really an appropriate apology to the Native peoples.
“The wording of this apology and the way it was buried in an unrelated document were not appropriate or respectful ways to speak to the indigenous hosts of this land.”
Additionally, he says, it is important to communicate the contents of the letter to “Native American elders, many of whom personally endured the horrors of boarding schools, relocation, and disenfranchisement.”
Some of the non-native people at the gathering read parts of the bill and the apology. Two others read the apology in Ojibuway and the Navajo languages.
In some ways, burying the apology in the defence bill only highlights how Native Americans have been forgotten and marginalized over the years.
But Charles said after the reading that he is not really holding the event in protest or in anger.
Rather, he says, he hopes the reading will launch a new conversation between US government officials, including President Obama, and Native American people.
“I am asking for a new conversation about reconciliation in our country,” he said.