A growing global movement to apologize and make restitution to victims of human rights abuses is now gathering steam in the United States, but it won’t be a first for the country, says the president of The Western History Association.
“In reviewing the history of reconciliation in the American West, I’ve found three examples of government restitution – where we acknowledge we’ve participated in human rights abuses and offered either an apology, restitution, reparation or all three,” says Sherry Smith, associate director of SMU’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies and a professor in the University’s William P. Clements Department of History, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.
The state of Montana granted posthumous pardons to Germans and Austrians convicted and imprisoned under repressive sedition laws during World War I; the U.S. government paid reparations to the heirs of Japanese Americans relocated to incarceration camps during World War II; and in a landmark native-lands case, Arizona returned 6,000 acres to the Hualapai tribe in the 1940s and the U.S. government set up the Indian Claims Commission.
“These are tiny steps considering the magnitude of the problem. But they helped turn the corner of deep injustice,” Smith says. “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” (Left, a Navajo mother and children in the door of a hogan, David deHarport, National Park Service Historic Photo Collection.)