Oklahoma tribal leaders express mixed reactions to apology bill

Tulsa, Oklahoma (AP) 3-08

Oklahoma tribal leaders expressed mixed reactions to a bill being pushed by U.S. Rep. Dan Boren to issue an official apology from the U.S. government for past mistreatment of American Indian tribes.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief A.D. Ellis says the bill is long overdue and would have little practical effect.

“Our parents should have received the apology, my mother, our ancestors,” he said. “I don’t need it.”

Boren, D-Okla., told attendees at the National Congress of American Indian’s conference in Washington, D.C., that he took over the apology bill from Rep. Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who died last fall from breast cancer.

The bill seeks to publicly acknowledge and apologize for past federal policies like forced relocation. It makes no provisions for reparations to the more than 1 million Indians in the country.

Boren’s effort echoes a similar, recent apology by the Australian government to Aborigines.

Other local Indian leaders said the apology was an exercise in strengthening current federal statutes, like the Self-Government Act of 1990.

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith said he hopes for stronger tribal governments as a result of the federal apology.

“I think what’s important is the government has expressed a sound public self-governance act. Congress and the administration not only should live up to the letter of the policy but its intent, also,” he said.

Jim Gray, Osage Nation principal chief, said he was surprised but glad Boren championed the effort.

“After the broken treaties and broken promises over all these years, I certainly didn’t expect to see that in my lifetime,” Gray said.

A Tulsa attorney who specializes in Indian law, Michael McBride, agreed the measure was overdue, but he wondered about current factors that may have prompted the official apology.

“I just hope that the United States would do more to rectify prior injustices, like appropriations to address the mismanagement of trust funds, that would go a long way towards making the apology have real substance,” he said.

Disclosure records show Boren received approximately $9,000 in tribal-affiliated campaign donations from 2006-07.