International Sorry Day: Grandpa Learns his Native Tongue


Paul tells me he’s learning the Tlingit language so he can believe the stories of his people, not just know the plots. When he was young, missionaries and the government prohibited Alaskan Natives from speaking their language and living traditionally. They often took Tlingit children from their homes and families, placing them in boarding schools as far away as Washington and Oregon. Now Paul is a grandfather and is committed to relearning a way of living that he says is not lost but rather hiding, just below the skin. He is proud of Duane and watches for a moment as his son helps his wife. “When I sing the old songs,” Paul says, “it’s like my chest is opened up and my heart is showing.” Paul’s words are poetry. I know because there is nothing I can say afterward. I just watch him resume his carving and try not to look too closely at the eye sockets of those dried fish.

If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska by Heather Lende

Today is National Sorry Day in Australia – it seeks to repair events that also occured here in the United States

International Sorry Day – Alaskan Children

May 26th is National Sorry Day in Australia. As I’ve stated before, the forcible removal of children from their families in an effort to destroy languages, cultures and religions is a human rights violation that has occurred world wide. In honor of International Sorry Day (an unofficial holiday), I am posting this quote is from a book about an Inuit child who suffered this violation. Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867 and the last residential school closed in 1996, so the residential schools program is a history shared by Canada and the United States.


“Olemaun,” he whispered. I had not heard my Inuit name in so long I thought it might shatter like an eggshell with the weight of my father’s voice. At the school I was known only by my Christian name, Margaret. I buried my head in my father’s smoky parka, turning it wet with tears. I felt a touch much gentler than my father’s strong grasp as my mother’s arms joined his. Together they sheltered me in that safe place between them.

Not My Girl, written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

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International Sorry Day

I have been mulling over Australia’s annual National Sorry Day (May 26th), an event managed by the National Sorry Day Committee. The questions I keep chewing on are these: 1) why establish such a day, 2) is it positive/beneficial and 3) should it be an international holiday?

The human rights violations perpetrated against Australia’s indigenous peoples are the reason for both the day and the official governmental apology. Horrible things were done and the country has established one day per year to stand up and say ‘I’m sorry.’

While apology day is supported by indigenous peoples and human rights activists, the abuses continue. This begs the question – why do it? If nothing changes, simply apologizing for doing it seems…well..hollow.

Personally, I would argue that there are extremely good reasons for holding such a day, because the abuses continue. It’s common knowledge that the first step to addressing a problem is admitting the problem exists. Government officials making official, annual, and very public statements acknowledging wrong doing and apologizing for those wrongs, equates to officially admitting the problem exists.

Does taking this step result in any real, positive, change?

One key advantage to individuals in power publicly apologizing for human rights violations is the ability to bring up those apologies, and present-day (in)action, during future political events – elections included.

It is not a cure, it is a beginning. It is a step in a much larger, and very important, process. That said, is it an international concern?

Again, I would argue yes – it is something that should be occurring all over the globe. In fact, it is something that does not require an official holiday to participate in. Average everyday people can take to blogs or YouTube or the streets with cardboard signs…whatever…and make a public apology.

Personally, I took a look at the official Australian statement and made minor modifications, thereby Americanizing it (it required very little editing). My apologies to Australian speech writers for the plagiarism – I hope this action is taken in the spirit intended.

United States of America Sorry Day Statement

That today we honor the Native peoples of this land, among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Lost Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in American history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologize for the laws and policies of successive administrations and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Americans.

We apologize especially for the removal of Native American children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Lost Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the citizens of the United States of America respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Americans.

A future where this Government resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Americans, Native and non-Native, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Americans, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, The United States of America.