We Regret To Inform You…. No Apology

CAIRNS Etanhan Wotanin (News from CAIRNS)

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Detail of “The Women and Children,” a painting by Charles Her Many Horses for the Takuwe exhibition, 2018.

Detail of “The Women and Children,” a painting by Charles Her Many Horses for the Takuwe exhibition, 2018.

Last week we delivered the community version of our Takuwe exhibition to the main library on the University of South Dakota campus. It will be on display there through the end of this month.

The exhibition is about the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, and is organized into seven chronological sections. The first section, Belief, focuses on the spiritual context of the Ghost Dance. Assassination, the second section, is about the early morning killing of Sitting Bull on December 15, 1890. The third section,

Trek, is about Sitting Bull’s follower’s desperate flight south to Big Foot’s village, and then the journey of Big Foot and his followers toward the home of Red Cloud. The fourth and central section, Massacre, focuses on the senseless slaughter of innocent Lakotan children, women and men by soldiers of the U.S. Army on December 29, 1890. Next is the Interval section, which covers the fourday period between the massacre and the burial of Lakotan bodies that remained on the killing field. The January 3-4, 1891, burial of those bodies is the focus of the Interment section. The final section, Proposal, examines efforts to commemorate the Lakotans who were massacred on December 29, who were wounded that day, who died later of wounds or shock, and who survived the atrocity.

The original museum version of the exhibition opened in 2018 and closed in 2020, after which the artworks were returned to their owners. But the exhibition is still available in two formats. One is accessible online on the CAIRNS website. The other is the community version that is now in the USD library in Vermillion.

Both versions include images of the original 28 artworks, the text of the museum exhibition panels, the text of the seven poems written for the exhibition, and audio recordings of the seven songs composed for the exhibition and of the poets reading their poems. The online version is free, whereas the community version can be rented and displayed in almost any venue.

One question that frequently arises about the Wounded Knee Massacre is if the United States apologized for the atrocities its soldiers committed that day, Monday, December 29, 1890. The answer is “no.” The United States has never apologized for the massacre.

There were, however, two efforts that are wrongly interpreted as apologies.

In 1990, the year of the centennial anniversary of the massacre, the U.S. Congress passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 153 on October 25. The word “apology” does not appear in the 576-word resolution. Instead, it “expresses deep regret on behalf of the United States to the descendants of the victims and survivors and their respective tribal communities.”

The difference between “regret” and “apology” is that regret focuses on the internal emotions of the speaker (I feel regret), whereas an apology is an action by the speaker that acknowledges a wrong has been committed and seeks to alleviate some of the suffering of the victim. When we have hurt someone, we are encouraged to apologize to that person. It is an action we extend to them for their comfort. When we have hurt someone, we may or may not feel regret for what we have done. If we do feel regret, then we will usually apologize to that person for our action.

The United States has never apologized to Lakotan survivors and descendants of victims for the atrocities committed by its soldiers on December 29, 1890, at Wounded Knee.

The United States did issue a blanket “Apology to Native Peoples of the United States” in 2009. The apology was not publicly acknowledged nor spoken aloud. Instead, it was bizarrely buried in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2010. The 67-page Act consisted of 9 Titles, the eighth of which was “General Provisions,” and ran from pages 18 to 60. The apology was on page 45.

It states, in part, that the United States “recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes” and “apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.”

To reinforce its meaninglessness, the 254-word “apology” ends with the following disclaimers: “Nothing in this section (1) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or (2) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

It is shameful and outrageous that the United States refuses to apologize for (1) the atrocities its soldiers committed on December 29, 1890, (2) the obscene manner in which its contractors and soldiers collected and treated the Lakotan bodies, (3) its decision to bury all Lakotan bodies in a single mass grave, (4) its refusal to mark the mass grave, and (5) its failure to compensate victims for their losses.

Will America ever fully acknowledge these unconscionable behaviors and truly seek forgiveness for them?

The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS) is an Indian controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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