Mississippi officials take time at the National Day of Prayer observance in Jackson to extend an apology for the gross mistreatment of Native Americans.
The prayer observance was opened with the pledge of allegiance, and remarks from the governor. Then, Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson took to the podium to offer an apology for past acts against the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and all Native Americans.
"As we gather here today and we come to pray, Jesus reminded us that before we pray there are some things that we should tend to," says Gipson. "We want to say 'I'm sorry.' And we want to acknowledge that there were injustices that were done to Native Americans. The original residents, the original farmers, the original citizens of this land."
Gipson recalled a 2009 resolution passed by the United States Congress that recognized the oppression and mistreatment of Native Americans. He says apologizing will help continue reconciliation efforts in the state.
Chief Cyrus Ben of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians embraced Gipson after the apology. He then took the stand to speak about his Christian faith and unifying Mississippi.
"To the state of Mississippi, Governor, First Lady, we forgive you," says Chief Ben. "We are one people, and I like to stand here before you today, first time in history the state of Mississippi has a flag on the National Day of Prayer of 'In God We Trust.'"
The U.S. Census Bureau reports nearly 18,000 Mississippians identify as Native American. There are around 11,000 members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.