LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday apologized to Native Americans for violence and other wrongdoings they suffered during the state’s history and called their mistreatment genocide.
The Democratic governor, in an executive order, called for the creation of a Truth and Healing Council to produce a report before the end of 2024 on the historical relationship between the state and Native Americans.
Newsom delivered the apology during an appearance with tribal leaders at the California Indian Heritage Center near Sacramento, the state capital.
“It’s called a genocide, that’s what it was, a genocide,” Newsom said, citing the $1.3 million in state funding authorized in the 1850s to subsidize militia campaigns against Native Americans. “No other way to describe it, and that’s the way it needs to be described in the history books.”
Tribal leaders who appeared with Newsom on Tuesday thanked him for the apology.
“It’s healing to hear your words, but actions will speak for themselves and I do look forward to hearing more and seeing more of you,” Erica Pinto, chairwoman of Jamul Indian Village in San Diego County, said.
In discussing the history of California’s treatment of Native Americans, Newsom cited an 1851 address to the state legislature by California’s first governor, Peter Burnett.
“That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected,” Burnett said then.
The state of California had never previously formally apologized for its role in wrongdoing against Native Americans, according to the governor’s office.
Newsom’s predecessor, Democrat Jerry Brown, did endorse a 2016 book by historian Benjamin Madley, of the University of California, Los Angeles, titled “An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873.” The book detailed how California’s indigenous population fell from as many as 150,000 people to about 30,000.
Madley estimated that between 1846 and 1873, up to 16,000 Native Americans were killed in California. Disease, dislocation and starvation also took their toll, Madley wrote.
The U.S. Congress in 2009 passed a resolution, tucked into an appropriations bill, that apologized to Native Americans for violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted by U.S. citizens.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler