Marketplace Scratch Pad

Never too late to apologize?

Scott Jagow Dec 8, 2009

Today, the federal government announced a settlement with Native Americans worth billions of dollars. It puts to rest a huge class action lawsuit that concerned events going back more than a century.

More from NPR:

…the Interior Department will distribute $1.4 billion to more than 300,000 tribe members to compensate them for historical accounting claims, and to resolve future claims. The department also will spend $2 billion to buy back and consolidate tribal land lost by previous generations. The program will allow individual tribe members to obtain cash payments for divided land interests and free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities.

The settlement resolves a 13-year-old dispute in which Indian tribes claim they were swindled out of billions of dollars in oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties overseen by the Interior Department since 1887.

The lawsuit said the government actually owed the tribes $47 billion. The settlement was for much less. It works out to be about $1,500 per individual in the lawsuit plus the $2 billion for buying back tribal lands.

Meanwhile, the Collegiate Church is testing the “never too late” theory even more. The church has apologized to the Lenape tribe for transgressions that occurred when the Dutch settled what is now New York City, circa 1628:

“We consumed your resources, dehumanized your people, and disregarded your culture, along with your dreams, hopes and great love for this land … We the Collegiate Church recognize our part in your suffering,” said Reverend Robert Chase of the Collegiate Church at the reconciliation ceremony.

This was purely a verbal apology, not a monetary one.

But as for the federal government, do you think financial payments for events that occurred so long ago are justified/needed? Should financial reparations be extended to African-Americans for slavery? I know there are legal differences between the two cases, but there’s some moral symmetry…

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