Rep. Christina Haswood, D-Lawrence, prays Thursday during a service at the Statehouse that included an apology to American Indians. Haswood is one of two Amerian Indians serving in the House. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Rep. Randy Garber delivered an apology to American Indians during a prayer ceremony Thursday on the south steps of the Kansas Statehouse, recognizing the country’s “long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies.”
The remarks were part of a coordinated reading in all 50 states during National Day of Prayer ceremonies — inspired in part by former U.S. religious ambassador and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
Garber, a Republican from Sabetha, was flanked by the two American Indian members of the House, Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, and Rep. Christina Haswood, D-Lawrence.
The apology recognized that native people lived here for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans and provided assistance to the fledgling republic. In return, they were subjected to armed conflicts in which women and children were killed. Covenants were broken, treaties violated, land stolen, and tribes displaced.
“Many native peoples suffered and perished during the execution of the official federal government policy of forced removal, including the infamous trail of tears and long walk, during bloody armed confrontations and massacres, such as the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 and the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, and on numerous Indian reservations,” Garber said.
The apology was passed by Congress in 2009 and signed into law by President Barack Obama, but never presented publicly. Organizers of the prayer service said Brownback also met Thursday morning with Negiel Bigpond at an American Indian burial area to deliver the apology.
About 100 people attended the annual event in Kansas, where lawmakers delivered prayers on behalf of their colleagues, educators, the institution of marriage, business, doctors, the judicial system, and farmers.
“We know that our constitution, both federal and state, are words written by the hand of man on a page,” said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. “But we also understand that two and a half centuries ago, it was you who guided those hands, who touched those hearts, and who helped to shape on paper what you gave you each of us.”
Rep. Bill Rhiley, R-Wellington, lamented a changing media landscape in which journalists moved away from being “honest watchdogs of government” and instead became “purveyors of political slant.” He asked God to clarify the role of media owners, executives and reporters.
“Speak and write words of truth, serving as a public forum for open discussion of issues and act as a public protector of freedom and liberties,” Rhiley said.
Shawnee County Sheriff Brian Hill asked God for his protection of first responders who “answer the call every day to serve the citizens in their communities.”
“I pray that you give all of us wisdom, strength, and courage to step out and do our jobs every day,” Hill said. Give us the peace of mind to know that you’re there with us and that your son, Jesus Christ, lives among us, and be with us as we go about our duties.”
A.J. Johnson, a Topeka resident, said in an interview that he attended the service because the nation needs to repent. People forget that Revelation has to happen, he said.
“The gates of hell shall not prevail,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re defending ourselves against Hell. Hell is trying to defend itself against us.”
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