Gov. Gavin Newsom formally apologized to California Native Americans through an executive order Tuesday for the state’s “dark history” of violence against indigenous people.
“It’s called a genocide,” Newsom said at a ceremony announcing the state’s apology. “No other way to describe it... I’m sorry on behalf of the state of California.”
The order represents an apology to Native people for the government’s slaughter of their ancestors, family separations and forced servitude, according to his office.
Newsom also announced a new commission called the Truth and Healing Council that his office says will allow Native Americans to clarify the historical record of the state’s violence against them.
“We can never undo the wrongs inflicted on the peoples who have lived on this land that we now call California since time immemorial, but we can work together to build bridges, tell the truth about our past and begin to heal deep wounds,” Newsom said in a written statement.
In 1850, the year California became a state, the government passed a law to remove indigenous people from their traditional lands, separated children from their families and forced Native people into indentured servitude.
California governors during the 1850s called for slaughtering Native Americans and authorized nearly $1.3 million, a huge amount for the time, to fund military campaigns against them, according to the governor’s office.
Those campaigns followed the creation of California’s mission system by Spanish settlers in the late 1700s and early 1800s, which forced indigenous people to convert to Christianity and perform labor. Thousands of Native Californians died from violence and diseases brought by the Europeans.
Newsom’s apology drew praise from some tribal leaders, although they said the state has a long way to go to repair the relationship between the state and Native people.
Erica Pinto, chairwoman of the Jamul Indian Village near San Diego, met with Newsom ahead of the announcement and said his language during the meeting impressed her.
“The words he kept using, ‘respectful,’ ‘meaningful,’ ‘collaborative,’” she said. “When I hear this, it gives me hope. He wants to make things right.”
Pinto said she’s grateful for her ancestors’ strength in the face of the government’s efforts to exterminate them and was overcome with emotion when she learned the governor would acknowledge the atrocities. Repairing relationships between the tribes and the state will take time, but she said she believes Newsom is on the right path.
“To me and a lot of the tribes, we’re going to be glad to hear this apology, but the real results will live in his actions,” Pinto said. “This is just the first step.”
Newsom gathered tribal leaders for his announcement at the future site of the California Indian Heritage Center, a 43-acre riverfront campus in West Sacramento. Former Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $100 million for the center last year, which will replace the State Indian Museum in Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park in Sacramento.
The Indian Heritage Center, which will host cultural programming and display thousands of artifacts, is estimated to cost $200 million. Indian tribes are expected to raise the other half of the funding.
Assemblyman James Ramos, the first California Indian elected to the state Legislature, launched Newsom’s event by singing two traditional songs. One was about a hummingbird that sips nectar from flowers, which Ramos said symbolizes the “nourishment” tribes will receive from the state acknowledging its atrocities against them.
“To have it finally recognized by the state of California means a lot,” said Ramos, a Democrat from San Manuel Reservation.