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#46 | THE APOLOGY

“If an apology is followed by an excuse or a reason, it means one is going to commit the same mistake again they just apologized for.”

—Amit Kalantri

The morning light summons silence and awe as I enter Wind Cave National Park. As I drive, I marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds me. In time my mind wanders back to something I heard from the executive director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation yesterday, back on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He said that to his knowledge, the US government has never officially apologized for breaking the Treaty of 1868, or for the cultural and economic oppression that followed.

Suddenly an idea comes to me and I pull the car over hastily into a small gravel turnout. Historically, Lakota society was communal; no one spoke for everyone. All voices were important. Government was informal then, and the power went to the people. It is from this spirit that my ideas flow.

“Why can’t I write an apology?” I ask myself.

I turn off the car, grab my journal, take out my pen, and eagerly begin to write. From there the words just flow . . .

THE APOLOGY

To the Lakota people and all the First Nation tribes of the northern plains:

My name is Kevin Hancock, and I would like to apologize.

I have learned the history of your people and I am aware of the devastating impact America’s Western expansion had upon you.

I apologize that we put our needs above yours.

I apologize that we broke our treaties.

I apologize that we took your land under the guise of our own industriousness, and as if we had God’s blessing.

I apologize that we saw your race and culture as inferior and treated you as such.

I have also learned about the neglect and federal mismanagement of your reservations in the twentieth century, and for this, too, I would like to apologize.

I apologize that we restricted your constitutional rights to free speech and religion.

I apologize that we restricted your rights to gather and to bear arms.

I apologize that we sold off your property without your consent or just compensation.

I apologize that we sent your children off to unforgiving boarding schools to be remade.

I have seen modern-day life at Pine Ridge, and I would like to apologize for the conditions a century of oppression and mistreatment helped create.

I wish we could go back and rewrite history. I wish we could start over and do it differently. I wish we could have seen that there was room for everyone. I wish we had not overreached.

I hope you will accept this apology and that we can now join together in the Lakota tradition that says all people are one people. An apology from one person may seem small. It changes nothing in many ways. At the same time, this is how I feel, and I do not believe I am alone. I believe there are hundreds of millions of people across America who are also sorry.

I hope this apology contributes to the process of healing, forgiving yet remembering, and moving on.

Having met your people, I believe in your future.

Sincerely,

Kevin Hancock

(This passage is an excerpt from Kevin’s first book, NOT FOR SALE: FINDING CENTER IN THE LAND OF CRAZY HORSE.)

* * *

I quietly put my pen away in the silver binder rings of my journal and get out of the car. The crisp Black Hills air engulfs me as I walk reflectively in a slow circle.

People who have been marginalized need understanding and respect in order to heal. Perhaps an apology from the people can be even more powerful than an institutional apology from a bureaucratic government.

I stop circling and take a deep breath. The air flows in through my nose and descends into my body. The power of that air spreads through me. I close my eyes and extend my arms in prayer to the Great Spirit.

“I apologize,” I say out loud. “I apologize.”

* * *

Apologies aren’t meant to change the past. They are meant to change the future.

Please join me by clicking this link and adding your name to this apology. Please feel free to share the link, inviting others you know (and some you don’t) to do the same.

http://www.seventhpower.org/the-apology/

“The United States agrees that commencing on the east bank of the Missouri river where the 46th parallel crosses, thence down said east bank to a point where the northern line of the State of Nebraska strikes the river, thence west along said river to the 104th degree longitude, thence north to a point where the 46th parallel intercepts the same, then due east along said parallel to the place of the beginning shall be set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein named.”

—The Second Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868

Pine Ridge today, while magical and inspiring in many ways, is statistically the poorest place in America. This is not a coincidence. It’s the direct result of those with the most power overreaching and never fully acknowledging or apologizing for that misconduct. Apologies aren’t meant to change the past. They are meant to change the future.

 

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

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This is the forty-sixth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!

 




#13 | OH . . . THE STORIES WE’VE TOLD

“La Storia di questi avvenimenti fu scritta dai vincitori.”
(“The history of these events was written by the winners.”)
–Italian proverb

Are you aware that your view of the world is based on a carefully cultivated set of stories that you have been repeatedly told since childhood?

You’ve likely been fed these stories for so long in both overt and covert ways that you’ve accepted them as largely unalterable truths.

For example, I remember how silence consumed me the day I realized that America had committed countless acts of genocide against indigenous peoples. It was my second trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and I had just left a visit with several community leaders through which the full, ugly story had been revealed. Later, beside my dusty rental vehicle I searched the term “genocide” on my phone. The treatment of the plains tribes met every criteria. I was dumbfounded at my own historical ignorance.

I majored in American history in college and then taught that same history as a career for several years thereafter. Not once across that entire educational journey did I see, hear, or read anything about genocide as a central element of the America experience. Yet now, suddenly, that truth was as real as the moon and the sun.

I paced in circles, unable to break my orbit and re-enter my car.

 


“We all adhere to a belief system; otherwise, we don’t have a strategy for dealing with a complex world,” my Colombian-born friend and advertising executive Jose Miguel Sokoloff once told me over an English breakfast in London.

Storytelling is one of the oldest traditions of the human experience. It’s through stories that we come to know our heritage, our ancestors, and ourselves. Stories sort and select our enemies and our friends. They define our families, faiths, and countries. Most everything you know came to you through stories. It’s the price contextualizing the world demands.

But what happens when we become so deeply immersed in our own narratives that we can’t contemplate the possibility that what we perceive as absolute truth is actually, in part, merely a story? And how do we react when we come into contact with others from different cultures, faiths, and times whose lives have been built on a different set of tales?

When our stories become central to our sense of identity it can be very difficult to transcend them and consider a new set of possibilities. There are few skills more essential to continuous personal renewal and heightened social consciousness than the ability to critically reexamine our personal beliefs and tribal narratives.

And how would you say we are doing in that regard?

Our loftiest social narratives are written by the winners—by those who hold the most power at the time of their creation. Throughout history it has often been dangerous, even life-threatening, to question these stories once the ruling hierarchy has sanctified them.

That’s why Jesus was crucified. Ironically, it’s also why in 1555, Protestant bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and John Hooper were condemned as heretics and burned at the stake in Jesus’s name.

That’s why Vladimir Putin’s top political opponent Alexei Navalny was poisoned while exiled in Germany, and then sentenced to two and a half years of hard labor upon his return. There can only be one political story in Putin’s Russia.

This is also why freedom fighters in Hong Kong are being systematically oppressed, tried, and jailed. When Chairman Xi speaks before the National Congress, everyone must stand and applaud.

Why would a small group of leaders within an ethnic group, religious faith, or nation-state go to such great lengths to create a single sanctioned narrative?

The answer is simple: to control the story. Despite all the tanks, missiles, and technology in Russia, China, and America, the power of each rests in the maintenance of a dominant historical narrative. Everything we know rests on the veracity of a story.

Our ability to see past our own stories is ultimately what will define us.

So where to begin?

As always, we must begin at home – within ourselves.

In future essays I will be taking a look at my own white, male, Christian, American, CEO stories that have combined to shape my limited view of a diverse and complex world.

And what shall I take from this potentially discomforting inquiry?

What I expect to find is that my stories are incomplete and that there are far more dimensions and truths than I have previously made room for. After all, what is “truth,” and who gets to define it?

Unpacking our own narratives is essential for change to occur. Unless I can loosen my grip on my own stories, I can’t possibly make room for any of yours.

“History is mostly story.”
—Ken Burns

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the thirteenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!