The Right Coast

October 08, 2005
Brownback Proposes Apology to Indians as an Amendment to the Akaka Bill
By Gail Heriot

Still never heard of the Akaka Bill? Well, you really must read my earlier post. This is a significant issue.

In my last installment on the subject, I mentioned that the proposed Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act (the Akaka Bill) was scheduled for a cloture vote in the Senate on September 6th. Well, that never happened. Instead, the Senate took up Katrina-related issues (as well as the Roberts nomination). The Akaka Bill, like a lot of other Senate business, is still on hold.

But a few days ago Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) proposed an interesting amendment to the bill: An apology to all American Indians for all the wrongs their ancestors suffered at the hands of the United States government. Previously, Brownback had made this proposal as freestanding joint resolution.

Brownback is a conservative Republican who surely knows something about the legislative history of the Akaka Bill. It is the "sequel" to a 1993 joint resolution apologizing to Native Hawaiians. And he surely read or heard about the recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by former Senators Slade Gorton and Hank Brown opposing the Akaka Bill and pointing out that they voted for the 1993 apology resolution only because they had been assured the matter would end there--with no further demands. The Akaka Bill itself is proof that apologies--even apologies that are made on the understanding that they will settle the matter--sometimes do not settle things. Unfortunately, they sometimes serve only to make further demands more likely.

What is Brownback up to then? As far as I know, he hasn't said. But one possibility is that he is trying to make a point about the unworkability of the approach that Congress has been taking towards ethnic Hawaiians. A special deal for ethnic Hawaiians will just lead to more special deals. We live in an imperfect world. Lots of people have ground for complaint over how their ancestors were treated.

Whatever his motivation Brownback's proposal is an interesting twist of the saga of the Akaka Bill.