A first step

The Apology co-producer Negiel Bigpond helped craft the language for the bill.

Sam Brownback wants the United States government to repair its relationship with Native Americans, an act which he believes starts with a formal apology from the president. The former governor of Kansas and U.S. senator spent five years trying to get an official apology passed through legislation and in 2009 succeeded in getting it added as an amendment to an appropriations bill. That the government should and will apologize is the “law of the land,” Brownback says, but nothing has actually happened. Neither Barack Obama nor Donald Trump held a ceremony in the Rose Garden with tribal leaders, as he’d hoped.

Now, he says it’s up to President Biden to make the apology official. To shine a light on the issue, Brownback is producing a short, three-part documentary called The Apology, the first two installments of which can be viewed at theapologynow.com.

In The Apology, Brownback discusses his deep feelings of guilt and remorse around the government’s treatment of Native Americans, which includes broken treaties, stolen land, and massacres. Negiel Bigpond (Yuchi) is the apostle of Morning Star Church of All Nations in Oklahoma. He worked with Brownback on the language of the apology in the appropriations bill and co-produced the documentary. He would like an apology specifically for the horror of Indian boarding schools, where Indigenous children were “separated from their families, made to cut their hair and stop speaking their language, and were dressed in odd clothes,” he says. “They were somewhat mistreated, which left ill feelings.”

The Apology was directed by Matt Lockett and co-written by Lockett and Ben Stamper. The latter is also credited with the gorgeous cinematography. In the documentary, Brownback explains that his passion for the apology stems to a day when as a young man, he was standing on his farmland and was overcome by a feeling of death, which led him to think about the Trail of Tears and the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Eventually, he came to believe that an apology from the government was the only way to “lance the boil so that the healing can begin.”

Brownback makes it clear that the apology isn’t about giving land back to tribes or any kind of financial reparations. This is about something deeper, he says. “There’s a repentance piece to it. There’s a process, and you can’t skip steps. That’s really what we’re talking about for a nation to do, to heal. We’ve done other things wrong, as a government, but this is a really big one.”

Bigpond says that the apology is just a first step. “I’m hoping that it will release spiritual healing to our people. When it comes to land and things of that nature, that’s in the treaties. Those still exist, and the United States government will still have to deal with those treaties, as well as the tribes.”

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