Native Americans Push for Recognition of Buried Apology

By Emily Miller
Negiel Bigpond embraces a fellow Native American member of the Yuchi tribe. He and former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a longtime friend of Bigpond, have launched an advocacy campaign to press for a public statement of apology to Native peoples. (Photo: Courtesy of The Apology)

Negiel Bigpond’s family was forced from their land and marched across the country on the Trail of Tears.

Bigpond, who is Yuchi, was sent away from his family as a child to what were known as Indian boarding schools, where he remembers being made to cut his hair and dress differently, as well as being punished for speaking his Yuchi language.

Now he’d like an apology — or, rather, he’d like the United States to acknowledge the official apology it already has made to Native American peoples, which was buried in a defense spending bill and signed into law in 2010.

And he’s not the only one.

Bigpond and Sam Brownback, the former Kansas governor, senator and U.S. ambassador, have launched a movement to raise awareness of the apology and ask President Joe Biden to formally recognize it in a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden.

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“I just felt like it was time that the Native people receive an apology from this nation,” Bigpond said.

“I believe it would help — not so much that we would get granted great finances and buy the land back or give the land back or anything like that. It was a spiritual thing.”

Brownback and Bigpond met more than five years before the apology passed, when Brownback invited a group of Native American leaders to his Senate office. A friend whom Brownback described as a “person of faith” had told the senator that it was time for the country to be reconciled to Native Americans after years of wars, broken treaties, forced removal of Native nations from their lands, boarding schools that separated Native children from their cultures and other mistreatment.

“It captured my heart,” Brownback said, and he wanted to talk with both community leaders and spiritual leaders about what that might look like.

Sam Brownback

Two hours into what was meant to be a half-hour meeting with a number of Native American leaders, he said, “I asked them, ‘Well, what should we do?’ and that’s when Negiel said, ‘Well, I think there needs to be an official apology.’ That’s what really launched it.”

In 2009, Brownback sponsored a joint resolution in the Senate to acknowledge and apologize for the United States’ long history of mistreating Native Americans.

Language from that resolution was later added as an amendment to the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

In it, Congress “recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes.”

It also “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 it encouraged the president — then President Barack Obama — to acknowledge the wrongs of the U.S. against Native nations “in order to bring healing to this land.”

But, in the years since, no president has ever presented that apology to tribal leaders or read its words aloud publicly. Few people are aware it was made.

And, Bigpond and Brownback wrote in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post about the apology, “To many Native people, an apology not expressed is worse than no apology at all, just another set of meaningless words buried in official treaties and broken promises.”

The two have launched a movement simply called “The Apology” that includes a website and video series with information about the legislation, as well as a social media campaign calling on the White House to formally acknowledge it. Part one in a three-part docuseries will release on Aug. 15, with subsequent parts slated for Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. 

It comes as the horrors of residential and boarding schools for Indigenous children in Canada and the United States are being revisited. In the past few months, hundreds of Indigenous children’s buried remains were confirmed near the grounds of Canadian residential schools, and the Department of the Interior announced a Federal Indian Boarding Schools Initiative to look into the treatment of children in the U.S. Several children’s remains were also identified at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania and returned to their families for reburial.

“We’re in a season of reconciliation,” said Brownback, who served as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in the Trump administration.

Negiel Bigpond

“This is a time where we’re wrestling with these sins of the nation — whether it was towards the First Nations, whether it was slavery — where we’re wrestling with these problems now and their consequences. It’s time to deal with it,” he said.

Efforts have been made in the past to draw attention to the apology.

In 2016, Bigpond — a Christian who founded and leads Morning Star Church of All Nations in Oklahoma — organized an event called All Nations D.C., in which Native American Christians from 27 tribes across the country gathered at the Washington Monument to offer a prayer of forgiveness to the nation.

“We’ve already planted the seed of forgiveness even though we’ve never been asked,” Bigpond said.

In 2012, Mark Charles, a Navajo writer and speaker who ran as an independent for president in 2020, gathered about 150 Native Americans from across the country to read the legislation aloud in English, Navajo and Ojibwe in front of the U.S. Capitol. Charles had only just become aware of the apology himself and wanted to make it widely known.

He also wanted to draw attention to the ways he feels it is inadequate: It mentions no specific tribe, treaty or injustice and ends with a disclaimer, he said.

Charles urged Native Americans not to accept the apology, “not out of anger, not out of bitterness, but out of respect — out of respect for ourselves, out of respect for our ancestors, the boarding school survivors, the people who were massacred and even out of respect for white America,” he said.

“We deserve a better policy, and they can give a much better policy than what was signed into law on Dec. 19, 2009,” Charles said.

Bigpond and Brownback call the apology a “spiritual” issue.

They hope it will be a first step that can lead to ongoing conversations about what reconciliation looks like. Brownback pointed to the example of Georgetown University, which asked for forgiveness for selling enslaved people in the past and raised money to benefit their descendants, though he was careful to note the apology includes language clarifying that it neither supports nor opposes reparations.

And, Bigpond said, “An apology would be good medicine to heal people and heal the land.”

Emily McFarland MillerEmily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for Religion News Service. 



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15 thoughts on “Native Americans Push for Recognition of Buried Apology”

  1. I do hope that the apology of 2010 can be legitimized with the specific injustices that have been suffered. How else can it bring healing to the wounds of specific historical traumas well known by the native peoples? How else can we humbly acknowledge what we have done as a nation?

    1. Just watch.
      Opposing it is going to become the latest Litmus Test of your Salvation and PATRIOTism, from Trump TV, Fox, Newsmax, OAN, and a lot of pulpits.

  2. I’m ready for the US Government to repent and apologize for the 40 million + murders permitted in the name of “reproductive rights” we call abortion.

    1. Does that mean you do not believe that something needs to be done on behalf the indigenous native American population?

      1. Fred Monninots

        The Jews never waited for an apology to move on. They just did it and their accomplishments were the greatest revenge. Not content to cash in on victimhood, they built the greatest democracy out of desert. Others should learn from their example.

        1. Were the Chinese to overrun America and take away your family to be “re-educated”, and your kids later turned up in mass graves, you’d just get over it?

        2. Fred, I am not sure how to even respond to that. If a member of your family had been brutally beaten, and you were powerless to do anything about it, would you not want someone else to advocate on behalf of that person and to, at the very least, demand an apology from the wrongdoer? Or would you tell your family member to move on and stop acting like a victim, as if what happened did not matter?

        3. While we should not let a lack of apology cripple us from healing and moving on, we also should not practice “sloppy agape” and let people off the hook for having too much pride to apologize when they have wronged us. Forgive them in your heart – that is, turn them over to God – and let Him address their pride and lack of conviction. Remember God calls us to be reconciled to Him AND at peace with others, so He does not turn a blind eye to those who sin against others and refuse to repent.

          I say this as someone who has had to do this a few times. Almost every time (after I had truly left it over to Him), the person had a humbling experience and came back YEARS later to apologize (and fortunately, they had found a true relationship with Christ). The one major exception: the time that God humbled the person into a casket. Yes, He will do it.

  3. This article bring a few questions first it is documented (current President) Joe Biden is a pathological liar. These government officials for the most part are profoundly corrupt. They are currently sowing discord regarding race in the United States. The system is broken, period. Sadly this attempt is barking up the wrong tree. The only true healing comes through being reconciled to God. In the video, Bigpond stated that this is God’s land not man’s land. Which is true, at the same time satan and his army have deceived the hearts of mankind on this land.

    A true healing always begins with, “By His stripes we are healed.” Jesus Christ can only bring the healing that is needed. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true an ultimate place where one can find restoration!

    It is foolish to trust a corrupt government to give a token apology statement. This government is ramping up the level of CRT (Critical Race Theory). The government is dividing this nation more. It comes down to the perspective of our true citizenship resulting in our allegiance. As followers of Christ our citizenship is in heaven. This earth is not our home/land. To put hope in an unregenerate government, who only desire power will only leave one more desolate. Isaiah states that the government is like a drop in a bucket or dust in a scale (Isaiah 40:15).

    If I may as be so bold, take the energy out of the Apology thing and put your energy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel debunks ethnocentrism. When people give their life to Christ, they are now spiritual sons of Abraham. The Gospel is “THE BEST MESSAGE EVER!” The Gospel is amazing. All mankind have sinned. A Holy God hates sin so much that He has to pour His wrath on sinners. Sin must have a payment. Instead of God pouring is wrath on mankind. He sent His only Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty we deserve. God put His own son on the cross to die a shameful death. God poured His Holy wrath on Jesus Christ for every sin ever committed. Jesus paid the price.

    Here is the good news. Instead of paying the price for your sin and making endless apologies to people who can’t redeem you. Accept what Jesus did on the cross in your place. Place your sin on Him. Ask Him for the forgiveness of sin. Apologies to Him for the sin that so deserves the wrath of God. Then ask Jesus the Only Righteous Person to place His righteousness work on the cross in your life. Ask Him to be the Only One to give your allegiance to. Become a citizen of Heaven. Seek out as many as you can spread the good news. End racial division by becoming one true race. A Race that belongs to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. One day that King will give you a new home without sin.

    1. I believe I understand the heart behind your message, but let’s not hide behind the gospel as a reason to not apologize when wronging others. You post – especially the last part – reads like ‘I accepted Christ and put my sin on Him, so I don’t need to apologize to people for anything!” That is misleading. Apologizing to those you wronged is a part of acknowledgment (agreeing you sinned against them, which is also sinning against God), which is a big part of repentance.

      1. That’s well said, Marin. It’s certainly easier not to engage on difficult chapters of history like this, in which the church is complicit. But that stance doesn’t reflect the reality that “God is love” and we are called to be intercessors (Daniel 9) following the example of Christ (Hebrews 7).

  4. Yuchi?
    I thought it was the Tsalagi (Cherokee) who got forced to walk the Trail of Tears when gold was discovered on their tribal lands. Lost over half their population doing so, like the death marches between concentration camps as the Third Reich was in its death throes.

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