Political implications of apology and forgiveness for Indigenous peoples

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


It is generally accepted in apology discourse that the offer of an apology is empowering for victims: it gives them power to forgive or to refuse to forgive; they may even choose to ignore the apology. The effects can be far-reaching. Reconciliation between the parties – an essential function of an apology – could be completely derailed in the absence of forgiveness. This chapter aims to explore the recent state apologies made to Indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada and the United States and to consider in what ways, if any, these apologies have been empowering for them. The chapter will begin by reviewing the range of functions an apology can serve. In the political context these functions may include facilitating a process of reconciliation, promoting the justice needs of victims, and possibly even their forgiveness, through the acknowledgement of their experiences of injustice in an apology. They may even represent a shift in power between the parties. In this regard, the chapter will explore whether the acceptance or rejection of an apology is in fact a source of empowerment for Indigenous peoples. In developing the understanding of apology-making as a relational process, the chapter will identify ways in which state apology-making can provide Indigenous peoples opportunities to engage in the political life of the nation. As will be argued, however, insufficient attention has been paid to Indigenous peoples’ responses to the apologies made to them. The chapter will conclude by arguing that in the absence of serious consideration of Indigenous peoples’ responses to the apologies, the understanding of apologies as empowering for them in terms of the granting or withholding forgiveness is being undermined.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationForgiveness in perspective
EditorsFrancesca Dominello, David H. Pereyra
Place of PublicationOxford, United Kingdom
PublisherInter-Disciplinary Press
Number of pages36
ISBN (Print)9781848884205
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Apology
  • empowerment
  • forgiveness
  • Indigenous peoples
  • justice
  • reconciliation


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