California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) apologized Tuesday for the state’s history of violence and “genocide” against Native Americans, saying he hoped the belated gesture could help “tell the truth about our past and begin to heal deep wounds.”
Newsom issued an executive order that contained an official apology to Native Americans on behalf of the citizens of California.
“The State of California hereby recognizes that the State historically sanctioned over a century of depredations and prejudicial policies against California Native Americans,” the order reads, “[and] apologizes … for the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect California inflicted on tribes.”
The order also called for the creation of a Truth and Healing Council to produce a report on the historical relationship between the state and Native Americans.
Newsom also apologized in person during a blessing ceremony at the development site of a future Native American heritage center in West Sacramento on Tuesday.
More than 100 tribal leaders were present at the event, the Los Angeles Times reported. Some said they were “glad” to hear Newsom’s words of contrition, but noted it was “just the first step” in healing wounds and bridging divides.
“The words he kept using, ‘respectful,’ ‘meaningful,’ ‘collaborative.’ When I hear this, it gives me hope. He wants to make things right,” Erica Pinto, chairwoman of the Jamul Indian Village, told the paper.
“To me and a lot of the tribes, we’re going to be glad to hear this apology, but the real results will live in his actions,” Pinto added. “This is just the first step.”
In his address, Newsom acknowledged that California could “never undo the wrongs inflicted” on the state’s tribes, but he stressed the time had come for Californians to “reckon with our dark history.”
As Newsom’s office noted, a law passed in the early years of California’s statehood facilitated the removal of indigenous people from their traditional lands, separated children from their families and forced Native Americans to become indentured servants as punishment for minor crimes.
In 1851, California’s first governor declared that a “war of extermination” would continue to be waged against “the Indian race” until it “becomes extinct.” The state later authorized over a million dollars in currency at the time to subsidize militia campaigns against Native Americans.
Historian Benjamin Madley has estimated that up to 16,000 Native Americans died in California between 1846 and 1873 because of state-sponsored violence and also disease, dislocation and starvation.
“It’s called a genocide. That’s what it was. A genocide,” Newsom said at the blessing ceremony. ”[There’s] no other way to describe it and that’s the way it needs to be described in the history books.”