Last week, an American named William Twombly and members of his family, aboard a tall-masted ship called the Lady Washington, sailed up to a native Indian village on Vancouver Island. In bygone days, the natives would have had reason to run for cover. History teaches that white sailors usually bring grief. But not this time. Instead, local chiefs of the Tai-o-qui-aht tribe rowed out to meet their visitors in cedar canoes, and escorted them to shore, to the village of Opitsaht. There, in front of 200 natives and a clutch of reporters, Mr Twombly took out a text and read his speech of contrition. Mr Twombly is a descendant of a US fur trader, Robert Gray, and he had come to show remorse for an act of cultural barbarity that still resonates in the Indian community. 'We are sorry,' he declared, for the fact that two centuries earlier, his forefather had kidnapped a chief, insulted the community and then ordered Opitsaht burned down. The natives graciously accepted Mr Twombly's apology, and then they all sat down to a Texas feast. Later, Mr Twombly said he felt 'relieved'. However, if his sorrow was genuine, then it must entail some kind of genetic responsibility, and that would argue for some form of restitution. For starters, Mr Twombly could have left behind the Lady Washington. I'm guessing that the original ship formed the basis for Gray's family fortune which, invested and compounded through the ages, allows Mr Twombly to sail the world in splendour today. Wouldn't it be fair to give the ship to the natives, as partial reparation for their shame, and loss of their homes 200 years ago? Of course, that was never in the plans, and the Tai-o-qui-aht were much too polite to mention it. But that is exactly the problem with these ritualistic spasms of historical remorse. They are well-meaning but ultimately empty gestures, unless people open their wallets. That is why, on a bigger scale, the Americans are so loath to formally apologise for slavery, and why Canada is unwilling to apologise for the imposition of a head tax on Chinese immigrants 80 years ago. A government or an individual that is ready to say 'sorry' also has to be ready to make good the damage they caused. Charlie Quan of Vancouver is one of the last survivors of the 82,000 Chinese who had to pay a head tax to enter Canada. In Mr Quan's case, admission cost C$500 ($3,190). Properly invested, and compounded annually, that money might well have made him a millionaire today. But he cannot get even a dime, or a 'sorry' from Ottawa. Authentic apologies come with a price tag.