Congress working on apology to Indians

The U.S. Senate has acknowledged that the federal government stole land and resources from American Indian tribes and degraded their languages and customs during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The admission is detailed in what may become the first formal apology the federal government offers to tribes.

It was approved by the Senate early this month as an amendment to the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act, the first major overhaul of Indian health-care policy in more than a decade.

Now, members of the House of Representatives are considering the act and the apology.

“There have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies and the breaking of covenants by the United States Government regarding Indian tribes,” states the apology, which was proposed by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

Tribal leaders aren’t impressed.

“It’s a nice thing, and an apology is good,” said Adam McMullin, a spokesman for the National Congress of American Indians, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. “But the bottom line is, it’s just words.”

The Indian Healthcare Improvement Act doesn’t have a specific budget increase attached to it, but it will allow tribes more leeway in organizing their own health programs.

In January, Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon said American Indian treaty rights, including health care, have largely been ignored.

The 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, which was negotiated with leaders of about two dozen of Western Washington’s tribes before statehood, promised that a doctor would be provided for tribal members at the federal government’s expense.

The tribes interpret that to mean that their health-care costs should be covered by federal funds.

The Indian Healthcare Improvement Act is a step in the right direction, but won’t be enough to fill the need in Indian Country, Sheldon said in January.

Sheldon could not be reached for comment this week.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

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