January 20th (Tahlequah, OK) – It has taken the entire history of the United States of America, but at long last a President has unequivocally apologized out loud to the indigenous people of these lands. The explicit apology follows much earlier ones to native Hawai’ians for overthrowing their kingdom, Black people for slavery, Japanese Americans for unjustly imprisoning them in internment camps during World War II, and others. Despite a resolution passed by Congress and signed by then-President Barack Obama in December 2009, no public declaration had ever been made before. According to Robert Longley of ThoughtCo (Longley, Robert. "U.S. Apology to Native Americans." ThoughtCo, Dec. 15, 2020, thoughtco.com /the-us-apologized-to-native-americans-3974561.):
If you just happened to be reading the 67-page Defense Appropriations Act of 2010 (H.R. 3326), tucked away on page 45, in between sections detailing how much of your money the U.S. military would spend on what, you might notice Section 8113: "Apology to Native Peoples of the United States."
At the time, Native Americans were not impressed. According to individuals interviewed by various media outlets when the act was signed into law, by never actually announcing the apology, it did not truly exist. Said Robert Coulter, then-executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation:
What kind of an apology is it when they don't tell the people they are apologizing to? For an apology to have any meaning at all, you do have to tell the people you're apologizing to... I have had my doubts on whether this is a true or meaningful apology, and this silence seems to speak very loudly on that point.
Yet this same resolution is what the new President is basing the entirety of these and all future actions upon. In the third of ten Executive Orders signed while the inauguration ceremony was underway, the recently installed President took the opportunity to not only publicly apologize to Native Americans, but to set up a committee to decide the fate of a plethora of outstanding issues related to the tribes—everything from fully implementing existing treaties going back hundreds of years; installing modern infrastructure on all tribal lands; creating “a realistic method of reparations”; and finding a way to either incorporate all reservations into existing States and Territories, or break them out as their own States or Territories away from current ones.
However, since this Executive Order is based upon the original law, it also reiterates its limitations. Namely, it does not allow any lawsuit against the United States, nor does it present any settlement offer of its own. Instead, the President has designated a commission that “shall be formed with representatives of the Federal Government of the United States, representatives of individual State and Territory Governments, and representatives of the many Native Peoples”. There is no description of the makeup of this commission, how many members it should have, when they will meet, or how it will be funded. Instead, it presents a set of ideas that the working group will come up with answers and recommendations for on its own. Even if all of these divergent parties come to some type of agreeable compromise, anything they present will be non-binding and will have to be passed by Congress. Given the general split between the major Political Parties in Congress and their combined enmity towards the independent President, chances appear slim for any satisfactory resolution.
Representatives from the largest tribal governments such as Navajo Nation, Cherokee Nation, and others also expressed dismay at the lack of tangible measures and timelines. Further, in a joint statement signed by dozens of tribes, it was pointed out that the original Congressional Act apologized “on behalf of the people of the United States” and not the government itself. Although the President verbalized the admission, it was still the wording that was passed by Congress, and therefore the government has not accepted any culpability.
Other groups besides Native Americans were also concerned with the text of the order. The governor of Oklahoma—whose State is considered to be 43% “Indian land” according to a 2020 Supreme Court decision—expressed dismay at the idea that the State may be split in two or more in order to accommodate the decisions of the committee (a 2022 Supreme Court decision later reversed some of the conclusions of the 2020 case, giving the State of Oklahoma “jurisdiction over crimes involving non-Native Americans in Native American territory”, according to Business Insider). In Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah—where Navajo Nation crosses over State boundaries—the governors were more muted in their responses, but expressed a similar concern. Even within tribes there was some agita. Hopi Reservation is completely surrounded by Navajo Nation and is noncontiguous, leading tribal leaders to wonder if they would be forced to be part of their much larger neighbor who has 25 times their population.
African American and Black community groups also raised concerns around reparations being discussed here while they have been fighting for generations for the same. For these groups, though, the President already had a prepared response. During the signing ceremony, the President blatantly stated:
Besides what we are doing here, more apologies and reparations are necessary. But we'll start with the indigenous community because we must address issues around the health, safety, and future of the people living on underserved reservations right now.
When asked later to expound on these thoughts, the President noted that even though Navajo Nation is the largest of all of the tribal governments, it is still considered a food desert that is completely dependent upon the federal government for alimentary foodstuffs. Citing figures from government surveys, the President highlighted that over a third of the residents there lacked access to running water. Since water is a basic need for sanitation, medical issues also run rampant among the residents.
True to this description, Navajo Nation has the ignoble distinction of being the first place Doctors Without Borders deployed to within the United States. The organization, which is known more for going into warzones and third-world countries to provide necessary medical care for people who would otherwise have no other options, arrived in northeastern Arizona in May 2020 to help the nation get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The lack of resources and running water only made the situation worse for the residents and those hoping to assist them.
Other tribal governments and areas are in similar or worse straits. Aboard Air Force One, the President said that this is the opportunity to right hundreds of years of wrongs, but that the solution could not be dictated from above. The reason for the lack of details around the structure of the commission is because the President does not want to presuppose knowing the answers. And of course, the President’s opponents were quick to point out that the President had once again admitted to not knowing anything while implementing impetuous policy.
The above piece is an excerpt from the speculative fiction novel 254 Days to Impeachment: The Future History of the First Independent President by J.P. Prag, available at booksellers worldwide.
Learn more about author J.P. Prag at www.jpprag.com.
254 Days to Impeachment is a work of mixed fiction and nonfiction elements. With the fiction elements, any names, characters, places, events, and incidents that bear any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental. For the nonfiction elements, no names have been changed, no characters invented, no events fabricated except for hypothetical situations.
About the Creator
J.P. Prag is the author of "Compendium of Humanity's End", "254 Days to Impeachment", "Always Divided, Never United", "New & Improved: The United States of America", and "In Defense Of...", and more! Learn more at www.jpprag.com.