Gov. Newsom apologized to Native Americans. Will it make a difference?

Photo credit: California Gov. Newsom's Office.

By Mike Kinney

Will it make a difference?

On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order apologizing to Native Americans for California’s “historical wrongdoings,” constituting a formal apology for the “historical mistreatment, violence and neglect” of Native Americans. It rightly acknowledged our efforts over generations to maintain our culture, traditions and history, and takes steps to ensure that these efforts are formally recognized.

The order also establishes a Truth and Healing Council to allow Native Americans an opportunity to clarify their history on the record, so that the past is defined by us, not for us. The aim? That we may begin the healing process in the wake of an unfortunate history for our people.

In the wake of the Newsom administration’s apology, California Natives wonder if this executive order is enough to make a difference.  As the San Francisco delegate for the Inter-Tribal Council of California and the chairperson of the United Urban Warrior Society-California, I’d say this is a big deal.

California State Assemblymember James Ramos agrees — and that means something. Ramos, from the San Miguel band of Mission Indians, is the first ever Native American elected to the California legislature. He was among a gathering of 100 California tribal leaders who met with Newsom at the new future site of the California Indian Heritage Center in Sacramento on Tuesday.

“Having the acknowledgement from the governor of a lot of things our people have known, the atrocities that have happened to us but finally having it recognized by the State of California means a lot,” Ramos said.

Connie Reitman, a California Pomo Native activist and representative of the Fred Hogan Institute on Cultural Studies, called it a step in the right direction, particularly if you look at the broader picture. For one, this acknowledgement could clear a pathway for further resources for Native Americans.

“In the State of California, we have numerous laws that provide services and benefits for tribal people that have yet to be delivered,” she said.

Catherine Duran for the Native American Wellness Center in Richmond described it as an “awesome” first step.

“I think this will incite other States to follow California’s lead in this matter, bringing it to the national level,” Duran said. “We will be looking forward to the out come over the next few months.”

As a local Native advocate, I have been asked in numerous times today what Gov. Newsom’s apology means to me.

I’d say it’s an honest step in the right direction. The question remains, however, whether it will truly lead to additional resources for our communities in need. We shall see.

In Richmond, we are doing our part. On Saturday, July 20, we’ll be holding our 5th Annual Indigenous People’s Walk for Sobriety. The event is to help cure an illness resulting from centuries of oppression and destruction of our people and culture that has led to widespread alcoholism in our communities.

While we continue to raise awareness on this issue, the question remains whether Gov. Newsom’s executive order will make a difference in providing hope, and healing, to our long-struggling communities. At this point, there’s barely any room for optimism.

Gov. Newsom appears sincere, and my hope is that this acknowledgment leads to progress for our community. Let’s just hope it’s not too late to say sorry.