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Native Peoples Deserve More Than an Apology

Released to media July 9, 2008.

Native Peoples Deserve More Than an Apology

On Thursday June 12, 2008 Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine with a statement of apology expressing regret for the forced placement of 150,000 aboriginal children into residential church schools from the 1870’s to the 1970’s.  The next day in Minneapolis , Minnesota, American Indian Movement activist Clyde Bellacort called for the Minnesota Governor and other elected officials to apologize to the American Indian people.  In seeking an apology Mr. Bellacourt lists a host of historical injustices including stealing of land, violating treaties, and sending children to boarding schools.  Without question, the Federal Government was guilty of numerous and great injustices to the Indian people.

The problem with Clyde Bellacourt’s call for an apology is that it perpetuates a backward-looking mentality which ignores the real and continued injustices faced by Indian people. The Indian people deserve more than an apology.  They deserve their constitutional rights.

It is a shocking fact that the Indian people living on reservations are not protected by the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights from the excesses of tribal government.  Often saddled with constitutions written by the Department of the Interior in the 1930s, which do not contain a separation and balance of powers and do not provide for an independent judiciary, Indians living on reservations simply lack the guarantees of constitutional protections that other Americans take for granted.  The result is an unaccountable tribal government system that too often is dysfunctional and fails to protect the needs of its own people.  Whether this contributes to the poverty, joblessness, hopelessness, violence and chemical dependency that plague the poorest Indian reservations, or perpetuates tribal government policies that exclude thousands who are qualified for membership in wealthy Indian bands, such as the Mdewakanton Dakota, the failure to guarantee constitutional rights to the Indian people that can be vindicated in Federal Court is a national disgrace.  While Congress has passed the Indian Civil Rights Act, purporting to give many of the same rights in the Bill of Rights to Indian people, the Indian Civil Rights Act can only be enforced in the same tribal courts that lack the independence necessary to assure that they are not beholden to the tribal governments that create them.

William Lawrence, a member of the Red Lake Band, and the publisher of the Ojibwe News , Minnesota ’s independent voice in Indian Country, identified the problem succinctly in his article, “In Defense of Indian Rights” as follows:

“The U.S. Constitution provides the greatest opportunity in the world for groups of people to preserve their cultures, religions and identities, through its protections of speech, assembly, press, and religion.  Ironically, the only place Indian people are not guaranteed these rights is on an Indian reservation.  By denying Indian citizens basic civil rights, tribal governments’ claims to sovereign immunity have done more to destroy tribal culture than to preserve it… It is time to end the Noble Savage Mentality that keeps tribes in the ambiguous, inconsistent and untenable position of being simultaneously wards of the federal government, domestic dependent nations, and supposedly sovereign nations.  Indian people, whether tribal members or not, should be recognized as full U.S. citizens with all the rights, responsibilities and protections therefor, nothing more and nothing less.”

Clyde Bellacourt’s call for an apology by state government for historical wrongs fails to address this current injustice that affects the daily lives of Indian people on reservations.  The United States Federal Government, in 1946, acknowledged its responsibility to the Indian people in the Indian Claims Commission Act, which not only recognized through a special tribunal the wrongs and injustices done Indian people, but also provided compensation for legal, equitable and moral claims.  Through this process, the historical injustices done to the Indian people prior to 1946 were recognized and compensated.

A more pressing issue today for the Indian people is the ongoing need to grant full constitutional rights, and access to the Federal Courts to vindicate those rights, to Indian people now living on reservations.  The Indian people deserve more than an apology; they deserve the same constitutional rights that all other American citizens have claimed as their birthright.  Let’s correct this problem today so that someone is not demanding an apology 100 years from now for our failure to insure that the Indian people enjoy all the rights of U.S. citizenship.

The Resource Sentinel

Contact information:

Howard B. Hanson

 26 W St. Albans Road, Hopkins MN 55305-4419 

 phone 612-868-3148 | fax 952- 988-9364  

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Comments (2)Add Comment
equal rights.
written by Brian, November 02, 2010
if they feel that they are being persicuted because they live on the rez and only have no basic rights while on the rez then common sense dictates that you leave the rez. if you want all the benefits and responsibilities of a full american citizen then give up all the perks and extras along with the bad that come from living on the rez. if everyone moves off the rez then your "unfair" tribal governments will have nothing to govern. you cannot try to gain all the benifits of being a citizen while clinging to the extra that you get for living on the rez. that is double dipping.
Cultural Resource Specialist
written by Tim Thompson, October 22, 2015
In response to Brian's comment date Nov. 02, 2010: You do not see it from the Native American perspective, which is from the prejudice frame of mind of the white man. Originally this land was our land to enjoy, care for and live on without any other races rules, laws, regulations and constitution to live by. We cannot turn back time to change what has taken place, but the immigrants that took over our country should treat us in a more respectable manner as the original people's of this land. The people that do not see it that way then should go back to their grandparents and parents homelands from which they came from.

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