Non-Apology in the Age of Apology

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Aliza Gail Organick


After more than two decades winding its way through a variety of United Nations (UN) mechanisms, in September 2007 the world’s indigenous peoples welcomed the news that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (hereinafter the Declaration) was at last approved by the vast majority of nation-states.2 The four settler3 states that opposed the Declaration initially (the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) have each in turn voiced their ultimate approval of the declaration and have issued statements in support to their indigenous citizens.In spite of the fact that these statements expressed a measure of regret for past wrongs committed, not one of those endorsements embodied a formal apology. Now that the Declaration has entered its eleventh year, many continue to question to what extent these endorsements have meaningfully advanced reconciliation for indigenous peoples and whether these endorsements were authentic in their stated desire to do more than just acknowledge the aspirations contained in the Declaration.This comment will examine the framework for political apologies in general and then consider the endorsements of the Declaration by the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in light of contemporary apology theory. The article will then examine affirmative actions taken by those states following their endorsements in order to advance the claims of indigenous peoples and look at whether these actions have fallen short in providing meaningful redress for centuries of past wrongs.

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