When sorry seems silly

I’m thinking I deserve an apology from the government of the United States. At the very least, a regret.

I’m thinking I deserve an apology from the government of the United States.

At the very least, a regret.

After all, history indicates it was an American ship that brought Phytophthora infestans to Ireland, a blight that led to the decimation of the potato crop in my family’s homeland.

From that came the Great Famine, during which time almost one-quarter of Ireland’s population — including some of my relatives — left on the coffin ships for an unknown future in North America. Who knows what the family’s lot might have been today had these poor farmers not been forced to flee their birthland?

Yes, it’s a ridiculous scenario, but no more than the recent expression of regret by our provincial government for something it had nothing to do with, an event almost 150 years ago that is only linked to the B.C. government of today by the fact that it happened in an area that eventually became British Columbia.

This is not to minimize the tragedy of John Anietsachist, a member of the Hesquiaht First Nation convicted wrongly of murder and hanged in front of his friends and family.

The incident that sparked this miscarriage of justice happened in 1869, when a ship wrecked on Vancouver Island near the Hesquiaht Harbour. No one survived — but Anietsachist and another man were accused of murdering the boat’s captain and his wife.

Through poor translation and other errors, the men were found guilty. Britain governed B.C. in 1869 as a colony, although the British government was being urged by its navy to get rid of the colony the sailors were required to protect. The land did not become part of the Dominion of Canada for another two years.

So, why, then, did Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ida Chong attend a reconciliation feast with the First Nations group and express her government’s regret?

Chong said it was done because “with all our government was doing with respect to other First Nations — with reconciliation, with recognition, with respect — we felt that this was one area that had to be dealt with before we could move forward with any other matters.”

What other matters? What could Chong possibly be referring to? Is there some other group out there waiting for an apology from people who had nothing to do with an incident that happened years before in a time when we weren’t as enlightened a people as we are today?

The apologies to First Nations people for the residential-school tragedy and to the Japanese for their incarceration are appropriate because it was our governments who did that to these groups.

We dehumanized First Nations children and treated innocent Chinese families as if they were the enemy.

We owed them apologies and more. But, when we start apologizing for things we didn’t do, it starts to seem silly and lessens the sincerity of those mea culpas that really had to be said.

Dale Bass is a reporter with Kamloops This Week.

 

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