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What Good is an Apology?


What Good is an Apology?

Christopher McLeod

I’m a white man who has worked with Native Americans as a journalist and documentary filmmaker since 1977. Mostly, I have worked on exposing problems—environmental injustice, destruction of sacred places, hidden history. Finding long-term solutions has seemed overwhelming and elusive. But four decades of experience have clarified my understanding of our nation’s biggest obstacle to moving beyond the historical injustices confronting the cultures that share this land.


There will be no true justice on this issue until the “apology” is institutionalized. That is, until the institutions themselves that wrought the genocide–the Federal and state governments, the U.S. Army, etc,–are reformed from within, ideologically, morally, and practically, so that some redress is possible and the surviving native peoples are free to dispose of their world and culture as they see fit. The sacred bond between indigenous peoples and the land they come from should be cherished and cultivated. This is an inescapable, incontrovertible necessity if there is ever to be a truly equitable society in the land called the United States of America. Failing this, we are doomed to live under a curse, for the institutions presiding over the land and far too much of the globe itself still carry at the core of their existence this horrible, unspeakable crime, and it informs to some degree every one of their actions.


Would that I could uptick your post 1000X. Bravo.


Conquer, plunder, and repatriation of wealth to remote centers is the history of too much of humankind. Now that the physical frontiers have all but disappeared, the process will remain strictly on a class basis, for which there is too much precedent already. As Twain said, “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”


For further exploration of the topic, may I recommend the speech " Forgiving the Unforgivable" by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, given in Boulder, CO. it’s available at Alternative Radio, and describes the process being used after genocide in Africa, to heal communities by re-admitting those who have committed genocidal acts through a forgiveness and discourse process. It is absolutely riveting.


I think apologies for horrific crimes such as those against American Indians is a good thing. One of my favorites is that of the Virginia Assembly in 2007. It is explicit enough to be meaningful. Here is a link. It’s surprisingly well-written:


What needs to follow is, of course, substantial reparations to present-day descendants of Native Americans and African Americans for the horrific crimes of genocide and slavery.


I agree that an apology is only the first step, but it is a necessary one. In Canada, trainers and activists were brought in to “prepare” the population, to lead discussions, for a month before the formal government apology. That is a complex process just to get started. Then, of course, as Winona LaDuke says in our YouTube film, if the actions of the colonizer then fail to change, the apology is empty. Open a new mine, bulldoze a sacred place, after the apology, and it’s another step backward. But the courts and legislators are freer, after an apology, to take new steps in new directions. Consciousness change is not a linear path. Hey, we showed our last film, “In the Light of Reverence,” in the Pentagon a couple months after 9/11. The military controls a lot of land, “owns” a lot of sacred places, and there are Native Americans in the military who want better policies. Onward and upward, we hope!