For good reason Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation, is deeply offended that buried on page 45 of the 2010 Defense Appropriation Act (after pages on the maintenance and operation of the United States Military) is an “official” apology to Native American People. Not only does such dismissive behavior reflect amnesia and insincerity towards hundreds of thousands of people and one the worst genocides in modern history, but it reveals a national pathological defect in that, U.S. political leaders and officials find it extremely difficult in expressing remorse for past mistakes.
Like hundreds of other Native American tribes, at least for those who survived mass extermination campaigns, the U.S. government sought to dominate the Navajo by establishing armed military posts throughout their territory. Those who resisted were either killed or imprisoned. By 1868, the vast majority of Navajo were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico and incarcerated at a prison camp at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Conditions were inhuman: insufficient housing, shortages of food and water, disease, even enslavement.
But what occurred before their imprisonment was much worse. The Long Walk of the Navajo-forced deportation of the Navajo Indians to the Bosque Redondo camp-follwed a scorched earth campaign that murdered hundreds of Navajos. As winter wore on, the homeless, hungry, and fatigued Navajo began surrendering. On March 6, 1864, thousands of them started to make the 400 mile journey from Dinetah to the prisoner of war camp. Only the sick, very young, and elderly were allowed to ride in wagons; the rest were forced to walk every mile, including young children.
Escorted by the U.S. military and government officials, a sad and deadly journey haunted the Navajos. Records that were later published showed 126 Navajo died of dysentery even before the Long Walk started. Hundreds of more died either due to natural causes, poor health, malnutrition, or of various illnesses. Soldiers ruthlessly shot some who could not continue along the way.(1) Others were mercilessly beaten by military personnel, and some women raped.(2) Although the U.S. government attempted to conceal this atrocity, the horrors of the Long Walk and Bosque Redondo were publicized.(3)
Thousands of Navajos either died or were murdered during the Long Walk and while at Bosque Redondo. Sadly, there have been hundreds of other genocidal acts and mass murders that have occurred and were committed by the U.S. government and military. And even though many of them might not have been recorded, they exist and have been buried underfoot, just like the apology to Native American Peoples are buried in a defense bill. An official apology to all Native American Peoples, past and present, would begin a much needed healing process.
Apology Day-that would include other acts of genocide and mass slaughter-would begin to address and cure a kind of malaise, a willful forgetfulness and collective amnesia that has taken hold of the U.S. Such a radical destabilization of American mythology is needed to prevent more atrocities and to counteract American Exceptionalism. A public Apology Day would also break in upon the national consciousness and moral ethos to help Americans realize and understand how the political and military mistakes of the past are still present in the lived experiences of a major part of the population.(4)
Mark Charles recently went to the Capitol on the anniversary of the passing of the defense bill. He read the apology out loud, hoping that others would join him in his cause and that it would attract enough attention so that people would hear about it.(5) The brief apology, which includes admissions to ill-conceived policies, the breaking of covenants, and instances of violence, urges the president to acknowledge the wrongs, something that has not yet happened. Today, many Native American People are still marginalized and still suffer under harsh conditions.
An Apology Day would be liberating for both victims and perpetrators. A remorseful apology would initiate a long walk of healing between the U.S. and Native American Peoples. It would be curative regarding the United States’ post-dehistory-stress syndrome. Regarding other mass killings-Filipinos, Vietnamese, Central Americans, Iraqis, etc…-the greatest legacy for this president and generation would be to forge a sorrowful national narrative. This year, then, the most important New Year’s revolution would be to publicly apologize to Native American Peoples while enacting a national Apology Day.
(1) Hightower-Langston, Donna. The Native American World. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., p. 390.
(2) Kessel, William B. and Robert Wooster. Encyclopedia Of Native American Wars And Warfare. New York, New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005., p. 53.
(3) Ibid., p. 193.
(4) Jones, Adam. Genocide, A Comprehensive Introduction. New York, New York:
Routledge Publishers., 2006., p. 504.
(5) www.cnn.com. Navajo man wants the nation to hear its official apology.