Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Native Response to Hillary Clinton's "Off The Reservation" Comment

On Friday April 29, in response to a CNN interview question regarding the expected political and personal attacks from Donald Trump in a general election, Hillary Clinton stated that she has experience dealing with men who sometimes get "off the reservation..."

"Off the reservation" is a term deeply rooted in the implicit racial bias of the United States of America. Reservations are federal lands where Native peoples were herded before and after the "Indian Removal Act" passed by the United States Congress in 1830. Reservations are where our people were moved to during forced relocation like the "Trail of Tears" (Cherokee) and the "Long Walk" (Navajo). Reservations are not owned by Native people or tribes. Instead, they are lands held in trust for us by the United States Federal Government because we only have the right of occupancy to the land, whereas White Europeans have the right of Discovery and, therefore, the true title to the land.

When Natives are “on the reservation,” it is implied that we are contained, isolated, and controlled. When we go "off the reservation," chaos ensues. We have gone rogue, act unpredictably, and are causing trouble.
In its literal and original sense, as you would expect, the term was used in the 19th century to describe the activities of Native Americans:

"The acting commissioner of Indian affairs to-day received a telegram from Agent Roorke of the Klamath (Oregon) agency, dated July 6, in which he says: 'No Indians are off the reservation without authority. All my Indians are loyal and peaceable, and doing well." (Baltimore Sun, July 11, 1878)

"Secretary Hoke Smith...has requested of the Secretary of War the aid of the United States troops to arrest a band of Navajo Indians living off the reservation near American Valley, New Mexico, who have been killing cattle, etc." (Washington Post, May 23, 1894)

"Apaches off the reservation...killing deer and gathering wild fruits." (New York Times, Sept. 7, 1897)

Many of the news articles that used the term in a literal sense in the past were also expressing undisguised contempt and hatred, or, at best, condescension, for Native Americans — "shiftless, untameable...a rampant and intractable enemy to civilization" (New York Times, Oct. 27, 1886).
(Kee Maleskey - NPR June 29, 2014)
But I would not expect Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to understand this.  They are the essence of the typical, establishment American candidates. Experts in the art of mythologizing American history and well-trained to speak the carefully constructed code language of American Exceptionalism.

The American mythology teaches that these lands were "discovered," instead of conquered or stolen. And the language of exceptionalism refers to the 19th century as periods of "Manifest Destiny" and "Westward Expansion." Rather than more accurately acknowledging that the United States ethnically cleansed this land to make way for American settlers.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been taught to not read the entire Declaration of Independence, lest they learn that the very declaration this country holds as sacred, is actually a racist document, which, 30 lines below the statement "All men are created equal," dehumanizes Natives as "merciless Indian savages."

They have been trained to not ask about the dehumanizing legal instrument (Doctrine of Discovery) or the racist legal precedent (1823, Johnson v. M'Intosh) that the Supreme Court of the United States used to establish the basis for land titles in this country.

These past 8 months many in our nation have rightly identified the narcissistic words and actions of Donald Trump as offensive, childish, ignorant, and even racist. But, unfortunately, most have not understood the deeper implications of his rhetoric. Donald Trump understands what made America 'great'--explicit and systemic racism.

One CANNOT discover lands that are already inhabited. That action is more accurately referred to as conquering or stealing. The notion that America was discovered is a racist colonial concept that assumes the dehumanization of indigenous peoples.

Throughout the 19th century the United States of American was literally in a constant state of warfare against native peoples: The Trail of Tears, the massacre at Sand Creek, the Long Walk, the massacre at Wounded Knee, the hanging of the Dakota 38 (largest mass execution in the history of the US), the Seminole Wars, the Navajo Wars, the Puget Sound War, the Comanche Campaigns, the Nez Pierce War and the Pine Ridge Campaign, just to name a few.

American expansion is merely a code word for genocide and ethnic cleansing.

And in a country that gave 20 Congressional Medals of Honor to the soldiers who participated in the massacre at Wounded Knee (1890) and to this day refuses to rescind them, it is normal, even expected, that a leading candidate for the office of President of the United States would thoughtlessly use the phrase "off the reservation."

A few months ago, President Obama, in his final state of the Union referenced the preamble to the Constitution when he said "'We the People.' Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people..."

When I heard that I said to myself, "Really? All the people? When did we decide that? I must not have gotten the memo? Did SCOTUS change the legal precedent for land titles?”

The definition of “We the People” is the very debate that is taking place in the Presidential Campaigns today.  Donald Trump seems to be advocating at the top of his lungs that “We the People” does not include Muslims, immigrants, women, and, based on the obscene amount of money he has made buying and selling land in the United States, definitely not natives. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is using terms like "off the reservation," and reassuring people that “We don’t need to make America great again. America never stopped being great.” Demonstrating that she does not understand the systemic racism and blatant oppression that has been endured by people of color throughout the entire history of this nation.

Unfortunately, the dialogue that is taking place this election cycle is not about broad-based equality or ending racism. The conversation we are having today is about the type of racism we want to settle for. "Do we want Hillary Clinton to work to keep racism as our nation’s implicit bias; or allow Donald Trump to champion racism as our explicit bias?"

After all, isn't building a wall, banning Muslims, and personally funding a presidential campaign with a fortune made by buying and selling land that has been ethnically cleansed, merely the fruit of a country that has learned all too well how to deal with the “merciless Indian savages” who sometimes get "off the reservation"?

- Mark Charles

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Doctrine of Discovery: We Don't Talk About That

A version of this article was originally published in Comment Magazine, Winter 2015.

In the summer of 2003 I moved with my family back to Dineteh, the land of my father's ancestors- located in the Southwest United States between Mount Blanca, Mount Taylor, San Francisco Peaks and Mount Hesperus. Today this land is better known as the Navajo Reservation.

I was born in this area, in a hospital located in a mission compound alongside an Indian Boarding school. When you pass through the tunnel leading to the campus of this mission to the Navajo and Zuni people you are greeted by a large sign which reads "...Now the LORD has given us room. We shall flourish in the land. Gen. 26:22"

In 1896, the first missionaries from their denomination's "Board of Heathen Missions" arrived on the outskirts of a budding railroad town, known as Gallup, which was located in the territory of New Mexico. The United States of America was nearing the end of an unprecedented period of westward expansion. Through military force, the building of railroads, and the signing and breaking of Indian treaties, the United States was near completing its self-proclaimed "manifest destiny" of ruling this continent from "sea to shining sea."

Only 30 years earlier, General Carlton gave orders to Kit Carson and 700 of his soldiers to force our Navajo people to surrender so we could be removed from this area and relocated to a barren strip of land hundreds of miles away in the eastern section of the territory. It was through bloody, violent, and genocidal acts of war that this land was cleared to make room for the approaching onslaught of white settlers, prospectors, soldiers, and missionaries.

But we don't talk about that.

This unjust and dehumanizing history has largely been forgotten and even when it is mentioned it is not connected in any direct way to the missions, towns and people who are living there today.

Why does this mission reference Genesis 26? And why did the founding missionaries claim God's leading and divine provision for a piece of land that was never given, but rather violently taken?

The answer to that question lies in the selective memory of the people from both the United States and Canada.

There is a broad misconception that the history of Turtle Island began with the "discovery" of this continent by European explorers like Christopher Columbus and Jacques Cartier.

Every year on the second Monday of October, the United States celebrates Columbus Day. There is a statue of Christopher Columbus in Washington DC located to the north of the US Capitol building that reads: "To the memory of Christopher Columbus whose high faith and indomitable courage gave to mankind a new world."

There is another statue in Grant Park in Chicago that enshrines Christopher Columbus with the label "Discoverer of America." It also celebrates his words spoken on October 12, 1492, "By the Grace of God and in the Name of Her Majesty Queen Isabella, I am taking possession of these lands."


Likewise, there are statues and plaques located throughout Canada and France, like the one in Montreal which reads "To Jacques Cartier, born in Saint-Malo, December 1st, 1491. Sent by Fran├žois Ier to discover Canada in April 20th 1534. Reaching the entrance of the Saint-Lawrence River, on July 16th of the same year. He took possession of the land on behalf of the king his master, and named it New-France."

Common sense tells us that you cannot discover and take possession of lands that are already inhabited. That process is more accurately described as stealing, conquering or even, ethnic cleansing.

But we don’t talk about that.

The Doctrine of Discovery
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit.”
These are the words of Pope Nicholas V, written in 1452 in the Papal Bull Dum Diversas. This Bull, along with others written between 1452 and 1493 became collectively known as the Doctrine of Discovery.  The Doctrine of Discovery is the Church in Europe telling the Nations of Europe that wherever they go, whatever lands they find that are not ruled by Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the land is theirs for the taking. It was this doctrine that allowed European nations to colonize the continent of Africa and enslave the African people. It was also this Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christopher Columbus and Jacques Cartier to land in a "new world" already inhabited by millions, and claim to have "discovered" it.

The notion that Europeans "discovered" Turtle Island is a racist colonial concept that assumes the dehumanization of aboriginal peoples.

But we don't talk about that.

Unfortunately, the influence of the Doctrine of Discovery does not end there.

In 1763, King George issued a proclamation known as the Proclamation of 1763. In this proclamation he drew a line down the Appalachian Mountains and essentially told the colonists they no longer had the right of discovery of the Indian lands west of Appalachia. That right was now reserved solely for the crown.

This is one of the places where the histories of Canada and the United States split. The colonies located in what today is known as the United States were angered by this proclamation. They wanted to keep the right of "discovery" for themselves, and so a few years later they wrote a letter of protest. In this letter they stated:
"He [King George] has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."
They went on in this same letter to address several other issues they had with the King, concluding with the following:
"He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages..."
They signed this letter on July 4, 1776.

Yes, the Declaration of Independence, which so eloquently states "All men are created equal," 30 lines later goes on to dehumanize natives as "merciless Indian Savages."  The document that in many ways founded the United States of America hinges on a very narrow definition of who is actually human.

The colonies located in what is now known as Canada accepted the Proclamation of 1763 and did not revolt against the crown. However, this did not mean the empty Indian lands to the west could not be "discovered." It merely meant that right belonged to Great Britain. Aboriginal people were still dehumanized, and our lands were still taken—it’s just that the injustices were done in the name of the Crown instead of the colonists themselves.

In the founding documents of the United States of America and in the implicit racial bias of Canada, Native peoples are defined as less than human and therefore are excluded from the broader group of "all."

But we don't talk about that.

In the United States, the issue and rights of "discovery" were crystalized with the following Supreme Court Case ruling:
"As they [European colonizing nations] were all in pursuit of nearly the same object, it was necessary, in order to avoid conflicting settlements, and consequent war with each other, to establish a principle, which all should acknowledge as the law by which the right of acquisition, which they all asserted, should be regulated as between themselves. This principle was, that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession."
US Supreme Court, Johnson Vs. M'Intosh (1823)
In 1823, the United States Supreme Court presided over a case brought by two men of European descent regarding a single piece of land. One bought the land from a Native tribe and the other bought it from the Government. They wanted to know who legally owned it. In reviewing the case the Supreme Court stated that according to the Doctrine of Discovery, Indians tribes only have the right of occupancy to land, while Europeans have the right of Discovery, and therefore true title to the land. This case helped establish a legal precedent for land titles based on the dehumanizing understandings of the Doctrine of Discovery.  Lest this seem like ancient history, it should be noted that this legal precedent, and the Doctrine of Discovery, was referenced by the United States Supreme Court as recently as 2005 (City of Sherrill Vs. Oneida Indian Nation of New York).

The histories of Native peoples in both the US and Canada are largely similar; discovery, expansion, bloody wars, stolen lands, broken treaties, residential/boarding schools, cultural genocide, dehumanization and marginalization. If there is a difference, it seems to only be that the Canadian government, churches and people are more passive-aggressive in their injustices while Americans are more explicit.

The United States sees itself as a City on a Hill with a self-proclaimed "Manifest Destiny,” while Canadians tend justify their expansion through economic benefits and solidifying their national identity. The United States developed the idea of Indian Boarding Schools with the explicit stated intention of "killing the Indian to save the man." Canada took that concept and built on it, making residential schools a formidable part of its national aboriginal policies.

Both nations have a history of expansion, economic opportunity and aboriginal/Indian policies based on the implicit racial bias defined by the Doctrine of Discovery which dehumanizes people of color.

But we don't talk about that.

Starting a (Difficult) Conversation

Photo courtesy of Kris J. Eden.
I have traveled extensively throughout the US and visited parts of Canada lecturing and speaking about the Doctrine of Discovery. I would estimate that less than 2% of the populations from either nation have a knowledgeable understanding of the Doctrine of Discovery.

On June 11, 2008 from the floor of the House of Commons, in a speech that was broadcast throughout the country, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized to the First Nations people of Canada for that country’s history of residential schools.

This apology was part of a settlement to a lawsuit brought against the government and the churches by residential school survivors. The settlement also set aside approximately $60 million for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And while this apology and the resulting Truth and Reconciliation Commission dealt with the injustice of residential schools, it did not touch on the Doctrine of Discovery.

In the 1950's and 60's the United States had one of the deepest conversations on race in its history, the Civil Rights Movement. However, the Doctrine of Discovery was not a part of that dialogue. In fact, one of the moral authorities used in that movement was the Declaration of Independence. So instead of discussing the fact that the US was systemically racist down to its very foundations, including the Declaration of Independence, the public rhetoric affirmed America's foundations and merely encouraged people to live up to those ideals.

The governments, churches and people of the United States of America and Canada do not talk about the Doctrine of Discovery. We have removed it from our common memory. Instead we talk about our common ideals, or about our stated values for equality and justice.

Or we remain silent.

Throughout its history the United States has worked hard to define racial identity to the benefit of the dominant white race. For people of African descent there was the one drop rule. This rule simply states that if you had one drop of African blood you were black and could be enslaved. Slaves were the free labor source of this growing nation, so it makes perfect sense that the founders would want that pool to be as large as possible. For natives there is the blood quantum rule. This rule states that you can be full, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and eventually your native/tribal identity can be bred out of existence. The United States teaches the myth that this continent was "discovered" by Europeans. Discovery assumes there was nobody here. It was the land Europeans desired. So the less natives there are, the easier it is to perpetuate the myth.

Because of these understandings, the U.S. has been forced to acknowledge, face and in some ways deal with its history of slavery—though unevenly and inadequately. But it has also allowed the nation to ignore, bury and deny its unjust history against natives.

On December 19, 2009, President Obama signed House Resolution 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriation Act. On page 45 of this 67-page bill, section 8113 is titled "Apology to Native People of the United States."  What follows is a 7 bullet-point apology that mentions no specific tribe, no specific treaty, and no specific injustice. It basically says "you had some nice land, our citizens didn't take it very politely, let’s just call it OUR land and steward it together." And it ends with a disclaimer stating that nothing in this apology is legally binding.

To date, this apology has not been announced, publicized, or read by the White House or Congress.

Creating a common memory

Georges Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader from Canada, once said “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.”

This quote gets to the heart of both nations’ problem with race.  Our citizens do not share a common memory. People of white European ancestry remember a history of discovery, open lands, manifest destiny, endless opportunity and exceptionalism. While communities of color, primarily those with African and indigenous roots, have the lived experience of stolen lands, broken treaties, slavery, boarding schools, segregation, cultural genocide, internment camps and mass incarceration.

But how do we do it? How do we create common memory where so much government, institutional, church and individual effort has been invested in consciously forgetting?

I recently attended the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. And I applaud the progress that was made there, just like I applaud and honor the work of Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. But I also know the conversation must go deeper. The United States must find a way to talk about the fact that its very foundations are systemically racist and assume the dehumanization of people of color. And in Canada, the dialogue must extend beyond the limited legal parameter of residential schools. Neither nation can create a common memory until the Doctrine of Discovery is fully on the table.

And that won’t happen until we intentionally decide to talk about it.


9 months ago I moved with my family to Washington DC for the express purpose of networking and exploring ways to initiate a national dialogue regarding the Doctrine of Discovery. I have been greatly encouraged by the vast number of people and communities open to teaching this history and confronting these injustices. Two months ago I recorded a short video that articulated the vision for a national Truth and Conciliation Commission in 2021 (#TCC2021) and the steps we are taking to get there. I welcome you to watch it.

Additional ways you can join this effort:
  1. Donate to our Crowdfunding campaign “Common Memory Project.
  2. Sign up for our Truth and Conciliation Commission mailing list to receive regular updates and resources on this work.
  3. Contact us with us to plan a conversation regarding the Doctrine of Discovery in your local community.
  4. Recommend Mark as a speaker at your church, for a conference, or at a nearby seminary, college or university.
  5. Contact us directly to learn about more ways you can volunteer in this work. 
*Mark's organization 5 Small Loaves does not have non-profit status and is unable to provide tax deductible receipts. Mark has established a partnership with the Christian Indian Center which is able to provide tax deductible receipts for gifts given off-line.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

An Invitation to Risk

The first time I spoke publicly about a vision for a national Truth (and Conciliation) Commission in response to the Doctrine of Discovery and the buried unjust history of the United States was back in early 2015. I had just written a blog article titled "The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair." This article laid out specifically what the Doctrine of Discovery is, how it influenced the very foundations of our nation, and exposed the unjust and violent history that resulted from it. It also deconstructed American exceptionalism and articulated a vision for a national dialogue on race, a Truth Commission. While this article did not go viral, it did get an incredibly wide reading and was liked, shared, republished, linked to and referenced hundreds, even thousands of times.

A few weeks later, I received an email from Brian McLaren. He had read the article and was extremely excited about the dialogue it attempted to initiate. He offered to help in any way he could. Not long after that, he told me that he was invited to speak at a conference called Christianity 21 in Phoenix, and if I could meet him there, he would give me his plenary session! At that point, I did not know Brian very well (he has since become a great partner and friend), but I was touched by his offer and found my way down to Phoenix. His plenary was scheduled for the second day of the conference. On that first day we made each other’s acquaintance, hung out and got to know each other better. It did not take me long to realize that Brian is a very popular author who is quite well known! In fact, I suspect many people attended the conference primarily to hear him speak.

The next day he began his scheduled plenary session by telling the audience that sometimes it is important for the voice from the dominant culture to step aside and allow other voices to be heard. He then introduced me.  I took the stage with a certain amount of fear and trembling as I realized the extent of the risk Brian was taking and the incredible trust he was placing in me. My name was not on the program, no one in the audience had any idea who I was, and I am quite certain that the Doctrine of Discover was even less known.  I had approximately 18 minutes and quickly brought them through the Doctrine of Discovery, exposed the buried, violent and unjust history of the United States, deconstructed American Exceptionalism, and then called them to lament as a way to prepare ourselves for a long overdue and much needed national dialogue on race. At the end of the session, Brian joined me on stage and we shared some final comments together. As we walked off the stage I was completely unsure how the people would respond.

The audience then gave a long standing ovation. And for the remainder of the conference, I barely had a moment to myself as many people wanted to ask questions and to follow up on the dialogue that was initiated in the plenary session.

Several weeks later, I received an email from Gabe Lyons, the founder of the Q Ideas conference. He had been in discussion with another good friend of mine, David Bailey, who had strongly recommended me as a speaker at the upcoming Q conference in Boston. Gabe asked me to speak about the Doctrine of Discovery. Again, I took that stage with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Both David and Gabe were taking a huge risk. Hardly anybody in the audience knew me and even fewer knew much about the Doctrine of Discovery. On top of that, the conference was being held in an old historic theatre in downtown Boston, just blocks away from the harbor where John Winthrop preached his sermon “A Model of Christian Charity.” And my plenary talk was titled “A City on a Hill?" (with a question mark). In the presentation, I again identified the Doctrine of Discovery, exposed the buried and unjust history of the US, deconstructed American exceptionalism, pointed out the faulty theological assumptions of John Winthrop’s City on a Hill sermon, and called the audience to lament in preparation for a national dialogue on race.


Because of the bright lighting on the stage, I could not see the audience, and they were mostly silent throughout the presentation. So when I completed my remarks and walked off the stage, I again did not have a clue how the people would respond.

About a minute later, Gabe came back stage and said, "Mark, I need to bring you back up. They are still standing and applauding."



After the session I was approached by a man who helped me understand what was behind the audience’s response. He said, "Mark, I'm sorry we gave you a standing ovation. That was not the response your session called for. But as an audience we had no other way to tell you that we heard you and deeply appreciated your honest words."

For the next two days, I again barely had a moment to myself as many people wanted to speak with me and ask questions as they grappled with the history that was presented.

Two months ago, I presented a seminar at the Urbana 2015 missions conference. This seminar was scheduled for the third day of the conference, and was assigned to a room that held about 300 people. I was excited and worked hard with the Urbana staff to craft a title and a description that was intriguing and would draw students to the seminar.  On the second night of Urbana, Michelle Higgins gave a very honest, challenging, and prophetic plenary talk on Black Lives Matter. While not everyone agreed, it definitely got people talking. After that talk, from the plenary stage, one of the worship leaders challenged the students to attend my seminar on the Doctrine of Discovery the following day. The next morning, the Urbana daily newspaper contained a full article regarding my seminar and the Doctrine of Discovery.  The seminar details were also getting shared and receiving enthusiastic responses on social media. Later, some Urbana conference staff approached me and said that because of all the publicity the seminar was getting they were adding more chairs to the room and staffing it with extra volunteers to help during the Q and A.

The seminar was located in a hotel a few blocks away from the main Urbana convention center, and I was concerned that distance would reduce the number of people attending. But on the way over I passed hundreds of people lined up to attend a session that was titled “Living a Radical Life.” It was in the same time slot, in a hotel located even further away, and it already had an overflowing crowd. I told myself, “See, there is nothing to worry about.”

I arrived at my seminar room about 30 minutes early and was surprised to find it still mostly empty. Slowly students began trickling in. But by the time it was scheduled to start the room was still far less than half full with only about 80 people. Now for the 80 who were there, the seminar was fantastic and their response was nearly the same as the previous two audiences I described.  And a group stayed afterwards, for nearly 2 hours, talking and asking questions about the Doctrine of Discovery.

But why were there only 80 people?  That’s the challenge with the Doctrine of Discovery. It has been buried for a reason. It’s unknown. It’s troubling. It’s difficult. It exposes a side of the Church and America that most people would rather forget. And because of that, it’s an extremely hard conversation to gather people for. The first 2 audiences were captive. They were there because they trusted Brian, Gabe and David. But they had no idea what they were in for. Had they known, most of them probably would not have come. But once I took the stage and they realized what they were getting, it was too late to walk out. So they stayed. They listened. They were troubled. But they heard. And most of them were grateful.

At Urbana, after the Black Lives Matter talk, 16,000 people were specifically invited and encouraged, twice, to attend a seminar on the Doctrine of Discovery and to take the conversation deeper. 80 people took that risk. That’s one half of one percent (0.5%) who intentionally joined the conversation. And they were grateful that they did. But a vast majority of the people never sought it out.

An Invitation to Risk with Us
So why am I sharing this with you now? Because this work cannot be done alone. For the past year, speaking, writing, and educating people about the Doctrine of Discovery has been my full time job. But unfortunately, it is not a well-paying, or even a financially sustainable one. When the leaders, organizations and audiences are taking such substantial risk just to create a space to deliver or hear a message on the Doctrine of Discovery, coming up with the finances to adequately compensate the messenger is extremely difficult.  A few of my invitations to speak come with an adequate honorarium. But many do not. As a result, our income fluctuates greatly. Some months it pays our bills and other months it doesn’t even come close.

There is a small but growing number of people, organizations, institutions and leaders who are willing to take a risk and create space for a conversation regarding the Doctrine of Discovery. But if speakers like myself make honorariums and paid expenses mandatory before accepting invitations, this conversation will never get started. Our priority must be on meeting people, and organizations, where they are at and acknowledging the risks they are taking just to be there.

And that is where I would like to ask for your help.

A few months ago we started a Crowdfunding campaign through GoFundMe, called “Common Memory Project.” I invite you to financially support us. The goal of this campaign is to help compensate our time, cover our expenses and expand this work so we can continue to take this conversation anywhere people are willing to engage it, without being concerned about how much we are paid. My hope for the next step, is to move past simply accepting invitations and actually begin planning events and intentionally bringing this dialogue to communities around the country, almost like a campaign. Two months ago I recorded a short video that articulated the vision for a national Truth and Conciliation Commission in 2021 (#TCC2021) and the steps we are taking to get there. I welcome you to watch it.

The Doctrine of Discovery has been buried in our nation’s foundations since they were written. This history will not be exposed by accident. It must intentionally be uncovered. And such intentionality involves risk and cannot be done alone. That is why I’m inviting you to come along.

Ways you can take a risk and join this effort:
  1. Donate to our Crowdfunding campaign “Common Memory Project.
  2. Sign up for our Truth and Conciliation Commission mailing list to receive regular updates and resources on this work.
  3. Contact us with us to plan a conversation regarding the Doctrine of Discovery in your local community.
  4. Recommend Mark as a speaker at your church, for a conference, or at a nearby seminary, college or university.
  5. Contact us directly to learn about more ways you can volunteer in this work. 
*Mark's organization 5 Small Loaves does not have non-profit status and is unable to provide tax deductible receipts. Mark has established a partnership with the Christian Indian Center which is able to provide tax deductible receipts for gifts given off-line.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why I didn't take Communion at Urbana 2015

As I sat waiting for the Communion elements to be distributed at the Urbana 2015 Missions Conference I began to do what both Jesus and Paul exhort Christians to do: examine ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul warns the church in Corinth about their practice of taking communion. There are divisions among them. They are not waiting or showing concern for each other. Some are going hungry while others are getting drunk. They are forgetting the significance of the Lord's supper and, therefore, are eating and drinking judgement upon themselves.  Likewise, in the book of Matthew, Jesus warns his followers that if they are offering their gift at the alter and remember that their brother has something against them, they are to leave their gift, go first and be reconciled, and then return to make their offering.

Because of these teachings I deeply appreciate it when churches tell their congregations about upcoming communion services. Informing us ahead of time, so that the community can prepare itself.
 
And communion at Urbana is no different. It is scheduled. A tradition. Attendees know well in advance it is coming. In fact, sharing communion at midnight on New Year’s Eve with thousands of mission minded believers is one of the highlights of the entire conference. So I usually make sure that I'm were ready.

But this year it was different.

When booking my travel, I made my reservations to return home the afternoon of December 31st. I knew going into Urbana that I was going to miss communion, and was disappointed about that. But due to my increasingly hectic travel schedule I wanted to get home in time to spend New Year’s Eve with my family. I had not closely looked at the conference schedule, so when I walked into the plenary session on the fourth night of Urbana, I was surprised to learn that this year we were celebrating communion a night early, December 30th instead of New Year’s Eve.

I was excited that I didn't miss it. But nor did I feel ready to take it.

On the second night of Urbana, Michelle Higgins shared with the conference an amazing plenary talk on Black Lives Matter. It was powerful, honest, truthful, challenging and prophetic. As a nation, and a church, we have a problem with systemic racism.  I know this full well as I have been traveling the country speaking about the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery is a series of Papal Bulls written in the 1400's that dehumanize indigenous peoples throughout the world. It justifies our enslavement and genocide by Europeans and communicates a value for their stealing, exploitation and profiting from us and our lands.  This Doctrine has been embedded into the very foundations of the United States of America - affecting the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the United States Supreme Court ("What is the Doctrine of Discovery?").

While she did not elaborate on the Doctrine of Discovery, Michelle's plenary on Black Lives Matter and systemic racism in the USA literally sent Urbana reeling. Some were convicted. Some were offended. Some were empowered. And some were incensed. But EVERYONE was talking. It was fantastic.

The next evening the plenary session was arranged completely different. All of the chairs were removed from the stadium floor and 8 pillars were setup. On each pillar was printed the name of a country where Christians are persecuted; Iraq/Syria, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria and Yemen.  Attendees were invited down to the floor to gather around the pillars to pray. We were asked to pray for 2 things. 1) For the people and Christians who are being persecuted in those countries. 2) For the people and leaders who are enacting the persecution in each of those countries.

But I couldn't join in.

Picture courtesy of Tim Chin - Urbana 2015 
I could not bring myself to walk down to the floor. Something was not settled within my spirit. Instead I walked around the stadium and eventually found my way up to the nose bleed seats at the very top. I sat there overlooking the conference and prayed, asking God what was going on. Wasn't it good that these countries were being prayed for? Wasn't it good to expose ourselves to global issues and to heed the call to pray, not only for those persecuted, but also for the persecutors?

Yes. But I still couldn't join in.

My spirit was stuck on the previous night. My mind was still pondering the statistics throughout the nation that clearly demonstrate that in the United States of America Black Lives do not Matter.  Natives lives do not matter.  The lives of people of color do not fully matter.

Urbana 2015 had opened a can of worms and started a very public conversation on race but that conversation was nowhere near finished.  Divisions had been identified, but they were not brought together. Brokenness had been exposed, but it was not healed.

We needed to pray. Not for the persecuted Christians living in other countries, but for the persecuted people of color living right here in the United States of America. We needed to pray for the communities that had endured genocide, stolen lands, broken treaties, enslavement, Jim Crow laws, boarding schools, internment camps, segregation, deportation, and mass incarceration. We needed to pray for a country that, in its very Declaration of Independence, declares Native peoples to be "savages." And in its Constitution literally defines "We the people" as white, land owning males. And to this very day, bases its legal precedent for land titles on the Doctrine of Discovery and the dehumanization of indigenous peoples. We needed to pray for the thousands of African American youth who had taken to the streets, like their parents and grandparents before them, proclaiming at the top of their lungs that their lives matter. We needed to pray for communities of color suffering from historical trauma due to the ethnic cleansing and slavery that expanded and built this nation. And we needed to pray for the trauma of our White American brothers and sister whose communities are living in complete denial of the horrific injustices and genocide that was enacted on their behalf.

We needed to erect a pillar in the middle of the stadium floor that was printed boldly with the words "United States of America," and then gather around it to pray.

But there was no pillar.

So I sat there in lament. Eventually the prayers of the students turned to singing, the singing to worship and finally the worship to praise. (Watch: YouTube)

When you live in a country that believes in its own exceptionalism, it rarely lingers long on negative thoughts, feelings or experiences. Exceptionalism requires, even demands, celebration. And that is exactly what was happening. And I could not join in. I could not celebrate. My people are still suffering. My country is still in denial. And my brothers and sisters in Christ were closing the lid on the can of worms that is systemic racism in the United States and diverting their attention to persecution enacted by the “real” evil and “non-Christian” nations of the world.

My heart was bursting with lament.

Picture of Bosco Tung - Urbana 2015
And so the next day, when I entered the plenary session and learned we were going to take communion, I examined myself and quickly realized that I was not ready - neither spiritually, nor relationally.

Like the church in Corinth, the church in America has a problem. There are deep divisions that exist between us. Many of these conference attendees would return home to their middle class families living in the suburbs. While others would return to overcrowded apartments in the inner city and to trailers on Indian reservations. I heard some of the struggle that it was to get the Black Lives Matter message onto the plenary stage at Urbana. I know the buried history of the Doctrine of Discovery. And I see the Churches complicity within that history.

So I abstained from taking communion at Urbana 2015. Not out of anger or resentment. But out of obedience. Both Jesus and Paul exhorted us to examine ourselves. Are we ready? Are our communities ready? Is the bride of Christ ready? And if there are found to be divisions that exist amongst us, we should excuse ourselves from the table and tend first to our broken relationships.


In my seminar at Urbana 2015, I proposed the idea for a National Truth and Conciliation Commission to be held in 2021 (#TCC2021). In the 5 years leading up to this conversation, I am asking the Church to acknowledge its complicity in the Doctrine of Discovery and to prepare itself through the practice of lament. To receive updates regarding this work please signup for our Truth and Conciliation Email List

In December 2014 I published an in-depth article regarding the Doctrine of Discovery and my vision for a national Truth and Conciliation Commission. That article is titled "The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair."

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Native Perspective on the Renaming of Denali

Denali Mt McKinleyOn Monday, September 1, during a trip to Alaska, President Obama announced that the highest peak in North America would be officially restored to the Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali which means “the tall one.” This is the name the Athabascan people have used for the mountain for centuries. In 1896, a prospector emerged from exploring the mountains of central Alaska and received news that William McKinley had been nominated as a candidate for President of the United States. In a show of support, the prospector declared the tallest peak of the Alaska Range as “Mt. McKinley”—and the name stuck.

McKinley became our 25th President, and was tragically assassinated just six months into his second term. But he never set foot in Alaska—and for centuries, the mountain that rises some 20,000 feet above sea level, had been known by another name—Denali.  Generally believed to be central to the Athabascan creation story, Denali is a site of significant cultural importance to many Alaska Natives.  (White House Fact Sheet)

Many articles have been written about the significance restoring the name Denali has had for the Athabascan people. But in this piece I would like to acknowledge that this name change has been a passionate issue for the natives of Alaska for a long time and therefore reflect on the significance their efforts have had for the rest of the country.

"They'll leave"

Those were the words of a Native elder when asked for his thoughts regarding the millions of European immigrants who had flooded Turtle Island to establish a new nation.

"Eventually, after they have used up all the resources and the land is no longer profitable for them, they'll leave. They'll move on to someplace different. And then we, the indigenous people, will nurse our land back to health."

That is an incredible perspective from a very observant man who has seen the lands of his ancestors senselessly exploited by generations of foreigners.

I have long said that the United States of America is a nation that desperately needs to be adopted. It is a country of over 300 million undocumented immigrants. People from all over the world who have left their lands, their homes and their families, everything they knew and loved. And they have flocked to this "new world" largely in pursuit of a financial dream of prosperity. But they never asked for, nor have they been given permission to be here. They have no clue why the mountains lie where they lie, or why the rivers flow where they flow. And as a result they feel lost, and live here like one lives in a hotel room.

But for the indigenous peoples of this continent, our creation stories take place in this land. They tell us why that mountain sets where it does, and why those rivers flow where they do. These stories connect us to this land. They ground us. And they motivate us to live here sustainably.

Our uninvited guests desperately want to feel connected to this land as well, but they have no stories, no understanding. So instead they carve their faces into sacred landmarks, and they name mountains that are eons old, after mere men who have never even seen them.

My Athabascan relatives in Alaska have given the United States of America an incredible gift. They have fought to share the name of their sacred mountain, and are giving this nation of immigrants permission to use it. This is an amazing gesture of both hospitality and mercy. And it is possibly a sign of hope. Hope that instead of waiting for their uninvited guests to leave, they might instead be willing to welcome them in, share their stories with them, and train them how to live well within this land.

- Mark Charles (Navajo)


*An edited version of this article was originally written for, and published by Sojourners

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

10 Reasons Why I'm Switching from using the term 'Racial Reconciliation' to using the term 'Racial Conciliation.'

The term Racial Reconciliation has been used in Christian, religious and social justice circles for a very long time. However, as I have learned, experienced and understood more about the racial injustices of the United States and the American church, I have begun to realize the inappropriateness of this term.  So below are 10 reasons why I'm switching from using the term 'Racial Reconciliation' to instead using the term 'Racial Conciliation.'

1. 'Reconciliation' is defined as "the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement.

2. 'Conciliation' is defined as "to overcome distrust or hostility; to mediate between two disputing people or groups."

3. Reconciliation assumes a previously friendly or amicable relationship.

4. Conciliation makes no such assumption.*

5. Reconciliation assumes the end result will be a good, even harmonious, relationship.

6. Conciliation makes no such assumption.*

7. Reconciliation is the process needed to restore a broken marriage or heal a wounded friendship.

8. Conciliation is the process needed in a nation that was founded on land stolen from Natives and built on the backs of enslaved African people.

9. Racial Reconciliation perpetuates a false historical narrative regarding race relations in the United States.

10. Racial Conciliation is a far more accurate term (given the historic and present day reality of race relations in the US).


- Mark Charles
(Navajo)

*Conciliation may not assume that a relationship started, or will end, harmoniously. But it does not preclude it either.
#SomethingToWorkTowards
#RacialConciliation

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Myth of Thanksgiving and Racial Conciliation

Being Native American and living in the United States I am frequently asked about appropriate ways to celebrate Thanksgiving.  I have celebrated Thanksgiving all of my life. Growing up, I have memories of my mother waking up at 5 AM to prepare the turkey to the music of Handel's Messiah. In college, I remember traveling home or visiting the homes of my friends to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal and spend time together. I remember cooking my first Thanksgiving turkey and the countless calls home, asking questions throughout the entire process. And I remember many Thanksgiving feasts celebrated on the Navajo Reservation with friends, family and neighbors over the past decade.

What I don’t remember is the myth.

Throughout the years, there were few, if any, references to the mythological potluck celebrated by Native Americans and Pilgrims back in the "Good ole Days."  When your Thanksgiving table is shared with survivors of Indian Boarding Schools. When nearby canyons, peaks and streets are named after Army officers like Kit Carson, who committed genocidal acts of war so the United States of America could achieve its "Manifest Destiny" of ruling this land from "sea to shining sea." When you are aware that the founding documents of the United States dehumanizes your people as "savages", the myth of Thanksgiving is exposed for the lie that it is.

As a Native man, I love the idea of setting aside a day for giving thanks. I love the time off work to spend with family and friends.  I love pumpkin pie, turkey and mashed potatoes. I love a good football game. And I love the days of turkey sandwiches, soups and casseroles made from the leftovers.

But I hate the myth. And I don't like the idea of a perfectly good holiday being co-opted to appease white guilt. Which, when it comes right down to it, is exactly what the myth of Thanksgiving is about: appeasing white guilt.

The myth of Thanksgiving fabricates a memory of the good ole' days when Natives and European Colonists harmoniously got along.

The myth of Thanksgiving forgets the words of Christopher Columbus who announced back in 1492 that "by the Grace of God and in the Name of Her Majesty Queen Isabella, I am taking possession of these lands."

The myth of Thanksgiving helps a nation of immigrants forget that the "American Dream" is predicated upon an "empty" continent and "free" labor.

The myth of Thanksgiving helps a colonial nation forget that the very land titles for the houses they live in are based on the legal fiction a church doctrine and the racist colonial concept of discovery that assumes the dehumanization of native peoples.

The myth of Thanksgiving helps a nation that stakes its reputation on freedom and equality for "All" to forget that the founding fathers actually had an extremely narrow definition of who was and who was not human.

The myth of Thanksgiving is why we call it "racial reconciliation" when in actuality the healing our country needs would better be termed as "racial conciliation." For when you understand this history you realize that we are not restoring, or rebuilding a previously harmonious relationship. We are settling disputes, dealing with injustices, and just maybe paving the way for the initial building of healthy relationships.

We can have Thanksgiving without the myth. We can give thanks without fabricating a memory. We can make time to sincerely say "Thank you."  But it won't be easy, because giving thanks requires being honest and vulnerable, and that is difficult to do for a nation living in deep denial of its own unjust history. So I would like to suggest a starting point. An analogy that debunks the myth of Thanksgiving and instead initiates a conversation, hopefully moving our country towards "Racial Conciliation."

Being Native American and living in the United States, it feels like our Native communities are an old grandmother who has a very large and very beautiful house. Years ago some people came into our house and locked us upstairs in the bedroom. Today our house is full of people. They’re sitting on our furniture, they're eating our food, they're having a party in our house. They've since come upstairs and unlocked the door to our bedroom but it's much later; we're tired, we're old, we're weak and we're sick, so we can't or we don't come out. But the thing that hurts us the most, the thing that causes us the most pain is that virtually nobody from this party ever comes upstairs, seeks out the grandmother in the bedroom, sits down next to her on the bed, takes her hand and simply says thank you. Thank you for letting us be in your house.

~Mark Charles