No Apology to Indians
By Thomas A. Bowden (The Forum, July 2, 2005)
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is debating whether the United States should formally apologize to Indians for a "long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies." This proposal should be rejected.
Before Europeans arrived, the scattered tribes occupying North America lived in abject poverty, ignorance, and superstition--not due to any racial inferiority, but because that is how all mankind starts out (Europeans included). The transfer of Western civilization to this continent was one of the great cultural gifts in recorded history, affording Indians almost effortless access to centuries of European accomplishments in philosophy, science, technology, and government. As a result, today's Indians enjoy a capacity for generating health, wealth, and happiness that their Stone Age ancestors could never have conceived.
From a historical perspective, the proper response to such a gift is not resentment but gratitude. America's policies toward the Indians were generally benign, aimed at protecting them from undeserved harm while providing significant material support and encouragement to become civilized. When those policies erred, it was usually by treating Indians collectively, as "nations" entitled to permanent occupancy of semi-sovereign reservations. Instead, Indians should have been treated as individuals deserving full and equal American citizenship in exchange for embracing individual rights, including private ownership of land.
If the United States government were demanding that Indians apologize for the frontier terrorism of their ancestors, as if living members of a particular race could be guilty of their forebears' misdeeds, the demand would (properly) be rejected as racist. For the same reason, American Indians should refuse to be regarded as a race of helpless victims entitled to a collective apology from their fellow citizens.