Friday, April 24, 2015

Creating a Common Memory with the Doctrine of Discovery

"Everybody get your cell phones out!"

"Make sure you get this on video!"

Early last March, due to an unusually heavy snowstorm in Albuquerque, NM, my flight was cancelled, my travel diverted, and I found myself unexpectedly stuck in downtown Los Angeles for 24 hours while I waited to catch a train back to the Navajo reservation. I was spending the day visiting the LA Union Rescue Mission, utilizing their Chaplains Study to get some work done. It was a beautiful Southern California morning. The sun was shining and my window was open as I worked 2 stories above skid row. I could hear the voices on the streets and knew the police were out, asking people to take down their tents. But it was above the normal noise and commotion that I heard something like the quotes above. So I walked over to the open window to see what was going on.

Pow! Pow!

Pow! Pow! Pow!

I saw people scatter. I watched people run. I heard people screaming.

I did not have a full view of the street so I ran up to the roof and looked down over skid row.
Already I could hear sirens in the distance and see helicopters flying above. That was quick. It didn't take me long to find the body of the homeless man, named Africa, lying on the sidewalk. Police cars pulled up. Yellow tape was strung. More police came. People were moved back. More police came. Then an ambulance. The body was covered, placed on a stretcher and removed from the street. More tape was strung. More policemen arrived. Helicopters circled overhead. First the nearby sidewalks were cleared. Then the sidewalks across the street. Next a line of police was formed and the block was cleared, first to the south and then to the north. I had never seen anything like this before. It was crazy. I did not know the story, but I wondered if I was witnessing another Ferguson? It was incredibly troubling.

One does not need to look hard to conclude that the US has a race problem. In the Declaration of Independence, 30 lines below the famous quote "All men are created equal" the founders dehumanized natives by referring to us as "merciless Indian savages." The Constitution specifically excludes women, Indians and African slaves. And in 1823, Johnson vs. M’Intosh, the US Supreme court set a case precedent for land titles based on the dehumanization of natives in the Doctrine of Discovery. A precedent which was referenced by the Court as recently as 2005 (City of Sherrill vs. Oneida Nation of NY).

Broken treaties. Slavery. The Indian Removal Act of 1830. Jim Crow Laws. The Dawes Allotment Act. Segregation. Indian Boarding Schools. Mass incarceration. The apology to Native peoples that Congress buried in the 2010 Department of Defense appropriations act. And the list goes on and on.

While it is easy to conclude, I actually don't think race is our primary problem. Make no mistake, the founding fathers of the United States of America were absolutely racist, and they embedded their racism deep into the foundations of this nation. But today, our primary problem is not race. The problem is trauma and the telling of our history.

Now, I know when I mention trauma, it is easy to jump directly to the historical trauma of our minority communities; the descendants of slaves and the survivors of boarding schools.  And while I agree that both of these communities suffer greatly from historical trauma, I do not think they are the ones suffering the most. Rather, I think the worst victims of trauma in the United States is the white descendants of European immigrants and the rest of the dominant culture. For centuries they have been building a nation based on the dehumanization of indigenous and African peoples and their descendants. They have bought them, sold them, beat them, raped them and killed them. They have stolen from them, relocated them, unjustly incarcerated them, and in every other imaginable way stepped on them.

This has gone on for over 500 years.

Now the trauma is so great that our states and schools cannot even bear to teach their own history. They attempt to pass laws forbidding the teaching of negative, unpatriotic history. The educational system doesn't mention the Doctrine of Discovery. Tests don't ask what justifications were given by the colonists when declaring their independence. We build monuments to Christopher Columbus and give 20 Congressional Medals of Honor to the US soldiers who participated in the massacre at Wounded Knee. We put Andrew Jackson on the $20 dollar bill and, on a mountain side sacred to Native peoples, engrave the face of the US President who, with the hanging of the Dakota 38, ordered the largest mass execution in the history of our nation (Abraham Lincoln).

This is our past. This is our history. This is how our nation was built.

The United States of America is not rich and powerful because of God’s blessing. We are rich and powerful because we are systemically racist and inherently unjust.

Native peoples know it. African Americans know it. Other colonized nations and peoples around the world know it. In fact, much of the international community knows it.

But most Americans don't.

They were never taught. They were never told. Their trauma, over the memory of what they've done, keeps it buried. And so healing is hard to come by. And reconciliation is next to impossible.

Georges Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader from Canada, 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."

Historically, our country has a built-in problem with race. But I do not think race is our primary problem.  Today, not only are we dealing with the historical trauma of African Americans and Native peoples, but we also have a deeply traumatized white America. The path of healing and the road towards reconciliation will not begin with new laws, or even with an amendment to our dehumanizing Constitution. Instead, it must start with the telling of the truth and an accurate portrayal of our history.

If we want real community in this country, we must begin with creating a common memory.

But until we do, keep your cell phones handy. Because Eric Garner, buried apologies, The Washington Redsk*ns, and the unfortunate death of ‘Africa’ is only the tip of the iceberg for a very troubled and deeply traumatized nation.


In my blog article “The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair” I proposed the idea for a “Truth Commission,” a series of national conferences beginning in Washington DC in December of 2016. These conferences would attempt to create a common memory through educating people on the Doctrine of Discovery and teaching an accurate history of the United States of America. It would also provide a platform for survivors of Indian boarding schools to share the stories of their experiences. For more information you can visit my website (wirelesshogan.com), follow me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram (user name wirelesshogan) or subscribe to the “Truth Commission” email list.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Empty Tomb (apparently is not enough)

We tend to think of Easter morning as a joyful, blessed morning as Mary and the other women visit the tomb, discover it is empty and run to tell the disciples the "Good News." We imagine scenes of celebration, and shouts of joy as his followers proclaim that "He is risen!!!" We have been lured into thinking that it was only Thomas who was the classic example of doubt and unbelief regarding the news of the resurrection when he said:
"Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
                                           
But, if we read the resurrection story in each of the Gospels we are find that fear, doubt and unbelief was pretty much the typical response of EVERYONE, including those who saw the empty tomb and spoke to the angles!

In the Gospel of John we are told that after seeing the empty tomb, the strips of linen and the folded up cloth John believed. But this belief was NOT that Jesus had risen from the dead, but rather he believed the report of the women who said "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don't know where they have put him!" So (naturally) he and the other disciples went home. (John 20:9-10)

Even Mary, who saw the empty tomb and spoke to the angles did not believe that Jesus had risen, for she stayed behind weeping (after the disciples had left), and when asked by an angel why she was crying, said "They have taken my Lord away and I don't know where they have put him."

In Matthew (28:8-10) the women run away from the empty tomb afraid, and with some joy, until Jesus appears to them and tells them "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

In Luke (11-12) it is reported that the women did return to tell the disciples, "but they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense."  Peter did go to the empty tomb,and saw the strips of linen, but he merely "went away, wondering to himself what had happened."

And in the Gospel of Mark (16:8), even after seeing the empty tomb and speaking to the angles we are told that:
"Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the (empty) tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."

According to all four Gospel accounts, Easter morning was not filled with triumph and blessing. Instead it was marked with fear and unbelief.

Apparently, by itself, the empty tomb is not enough. The empty tomb causes bewilderment, fear and even silence. What convinces people is not the empty tomb, or even speaking with Angles, but actually seeing Jesus himself risen from the dead.

On Easter, it is easy to focus our celebration on the empty tomb. But from the eyewitness reports recorded in the Gospels, it is not the empty tomb that causes people to believe. It is seeing the risen savior.

How much more true is that today, over 2,000 years after the fact. Our job as followers of Christ is not to tell people that the tomb is empty. Instead, we need to show people, through our actions, that Jesus is alive.

Happy Easter.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

What do you do on the day that the cross is empty and the tomb is sealed?

What do you do on the day that the cross is empty and the tomb is sealed?

You lament...

We live in a nation, and attend churches, that are convinced of their own "exceptionalism". This makes it difficult to know what to do with the Saturday before Easter. Our culture teaches us that everything needs to be celebrated. Nearly nothing can be mourned. Even "Good" Friday must be looked at in a positive, hopeful light. But if we look at Saturday from the perspective of the disciples, lament is probably the only option.

You just watched your master, the person you were convinced was the Messiah, die a horrific death on a Roman Cross. You watched your religious leaders and all of the people publicly reject him. You saw his beating. You followed his trail of blood out of the city. You heard his gasps for breath. You read his lips as he questioned why even his own Father forsook him.

And then you watched him die.

You helped take his body down from the cross. You laid it in a tomb and you watched the stone being rolled in front of it.

And then you saw it sealed.

It was over.

The next morning you woke up in a daze. For the past 3 years you had followed this man around. You walked with him, laughed with him, fed thousands of hungry people with him. You survived storms together. You even saw him heal the sick and raise people from the dead.

But now the cross is empty and the tomb is occupied. And all you can think about is the way you ran away when the soldiers came. Even after you looked him in the eye and swore you would never do such a thing!!!

What a horrible day Saturday must have been.

Not only did Jesus, the Messiah, the son of God, die. But he died alone.

Because you abandoned him

On a day like that, there is only one spiritual discipline that you can cling to. Only one holy practice that you could possibly engage in.

What do you do on the day that the cross is empty and the tomb is still sealed?

You weep. You mourn.

You lament.

Friday has happened. And Sunday is coming. But if you skip over the pain, confusion and despair of Saturday you devalue them both.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Declaration of Independence, the Washington Redsk*ns and merciless Indian Savages

Last week I visited the National Archives in Washington DC and personally viewed the original document of the Declaration of Independence. Did you know that 30 lines below the famous quote "All men are created equal" the founders of this nation referred to Native Americans as "merciless Indian Savages?"

This dichotomy highlights the bi-polar character of the United States of America. We are a nation that built its reputation on freedom and claims to stand for “liberty and justice for all.” But our foundations are clearly based on the dehumanization of others. And rather than acknowledging this, we have instead chosen to cling to a narrative of exceptionalism, a myth of manifest destiny and the lie of promised lands.

As a Native man one of the excuses I often hear for people’s ignorance regarding Native issues is "there are no Native Americans in my context." I tell them, “Yes. That was by design. Your nation was intentionally constructed so you would never have to be faced with the reality that there were people here prior to Europe's colonization.”

This is why our schools teach that America was "Discovered". It is why reservations were created. It is why the apology to Native peoples in 2009 was buried in an appropriations bill and never publicly mentioned by the White House or Congress. And it is why the professional football team located in our nation's capital continues to utilize the racist mascot "Redsk*ns."

The United States of American has gone through incredible lengths to keep the public narrative regarding the indigenous peoples of this land in mythical terms.  Because, the moment we stop being caricatures and become people, our nation must face the uncomfortable reality that the only reason it ever stated "All men are created equal" is because it has an incredibly narrow definition of who is actually human.


I have proposed an idea for a national "Truth Commission" to create space where the truth of our history can be taught. If you would like to read more about this proposal please see my article "The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair". To receive updated information regarding this proposal you can also sign up for our Truth Commission e-mail list. - Mark Charles

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 New Year's Reflection: American Exceptionalism and an Invitation to Lament

As the Ball dropped and the clock struck midnight, crowds cheered, fireworks exploded, couples
kissed, balloons fell, and a New Year was rung in. It was a huge celebration.

But in many ways 2014 was a difficult and painful year, especially for minority communities in the United States of America. Ferguson, Eric Garner, failed Immigration Reform, the US Senate report on torture.  We watched hunger strikes on Capitol Hill, protests in NYC, shut down freeways in Northern California, and thousands of African Americans crying out in pain, desperately trying to remind our leaders and our nation that #BlackLivesMatter. Time and time again we were reminded that racism and dehumanization are integral parts of the fabric of our country.

Many people have been asking what can be done, and how can these issues be addressed. New policies, better education, and higher quality training are all ideas that have been floated. Unfortunately, while these ideas are well-intentioned, I fear they are woefully inadequate. I believe the problem facing our nation is rooted in our belief in our own exceptionalism.  

I have spent much of 2014 studying and speaking about the Doctrine of Discovery. This is a troubling doctrine that came out of the Catholic Church through a series of Papal Bulls written in the 15th Century.

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V wrote the following words in a Papal Bull:
“…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.”
Essentially, the Doctrine of Discovery was the Church in Europe saying to the Nations of Europe, whatever land you find that are not ruled by Christian Rulers, those people are less than human and the lands are yours for the taking.

It was the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed European nations to colonize Africa and enslave its people. It was also the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christopher Columbus to get lost at sea, land in a “New World” inhabited by millions, and claim to have "discovered" it. Because his doctrine informed him that the indigenous peoples of North America were less than human, and, therefore, the land was empty.

Throughout European history in North America, the Doctrine of Discovery has become embedded in the foundation of America. The Declaration of Independence dehumanizes Indians by referring to us as "merciless Indian savages." The US Constitution specifically excludes Indians and counts African Slaves as three-fifths of a person. And in 1823, the US Supreme Court set a legal precedent when it stated that based on the Doctrine of Discovery Indians only had the right of occupancy of the land while Europeans had the right of discovery and, therefore, the true ownership of this land.  This precedent was referenced by the Court as recently as 2005.

Over the years the centuries, the Protestant church also adopted the Doctrine of Discovery and began to use it for its own benefit.  In 1630, in the colony of Boston, John Winthrop preached a sermon in which he referred to the colony as a “City on a Hill” and reminded them that they must be obedient to God so that "the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it."  Through the lens of the Doctrine of Discovery, the colonies beginning to see their presence in North America as a God-blessed, even a God-ordained, event out of which comparisons to Old Testament Israel and their journey to a "Promised Land" could be drawn. Over the next hundred years or so this thinking matured into an understanding that not only was this new nation a "City on a Hill" but it also had a “Manifest Destiny” to discover, occupy, and rule this continent from "sea to shining sea."
American Exceptionalism - By Mark Charles

Today, our leaders and our institutions continue to ease our guilt and massage our egos by telling us, that as a people, as a nation, we are exceptional. Our educational systems may be failing, our infrastructure may be crumbling, our manufactured and genetically modified foods may be killing us, our technology and consumption may be altering the earth’s climate, our middle class may be disappearing, we may be torturing our enemies, we may be aborting our babies, and our minority populations may be forced to scream out that "their lives matter." But, we tell ourselves, "We are exceptional." "We are good." "We have a 'manifest destiny'." And "The United States of America is still a 'City on a Hill'."

As a nation we have to believe that we are exceptional, because if we aren't, if our history is truly this dark, then that means our nation is merely average. If our nation is not exceptional, then our unjust history of discovery, slavery, genocide, theft, torture, and dehumanizing the other is no longer justified. If we are merely average, and our nation has not been established and ordained by God, then we can be held accountable for our unjust actions, both past and present, just like everyone else.

Our nation is in agony, and our people are literally crying out in pain. Our history is dark and the path forward is difficult. As a country we need to give up the false notion of our exceptionalism and accept the fact that we are no better than any other nation around the world. We need to remember that this land was not empty and Europeans did not discover it. We need to acknowledge that Africans and African Americans are human, their labor is not free, and their lives do matter. We need to accept that many of our national holidays, like Columbus Day, are meant to be mourned, not celebrated. We need to own our history and accept responsibility for our actions.

It may be a new year, but the problems and challenges of the old one have not magically disappeared. Immigration reform still needs to be passed. Our leaders and our institutions still need to acknowledge that #BlackLivesMatter. We still need to deal with the revelation of the fact that the United States of America tortures its enemies. And we have yet to acknowledge that we are citizens of a nation that has been built on a foundation called the Doctrine of Discovery that dehumanizes the other and attempts to "God-ordain" our collective selfish desires in our so-called exceptionalism.


Perhaps rather than turning the page and celebrating the start of a New Year, we would be wise to better educate ourselves and lament the old year(s).

Lament is not hopeless. It is not merely wallowing in guilt. Lament is a godly weeping over our own sin and brokenness. It is an admission that a wrong was committed and justice is due. But there is also hope. For while God is a God of justice, He is also a God who loves mercy. He is a God who heals. And he is a God who will go as far as sending his only son to be born in a manager, tortured, and crucified on a Roman cross in order to be reconciled with his creation.

The United States of America does not have a covenant with God and the continent of North America is not our promised land. Our citizenship in this country does not provide us any additional hope or preference in the eyes of the Creator. But if we are able to repent of our American exceptionalism and instead find our identity solely in the blood of Jesus Christ, then there is hope. We can lament our sins, even the sins of our nation, and still trust that no matter what judgment comes, or what mercy is shown, God is good. Our relationship with him is still intact.


I invite you to read another article I recently published titled "The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair." This article gives an in-depth history of the Doctrine of Discovery and its influence on the United States of America. It also contains a proposal for a step towards healing and reconciliation.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair

Picture a chair, an empty chair. There are dozens, even hundreds, of them sitting on the stage behind the podium. At the microphone is a Native American elder. Hurting, trembling, shaking, but standing. Full of resolve. Sharing a story of the horrors of the abuse, neglect and trauma, experienced as a young child at an Indian boarding school. In front of this elder are hundreds, even thousands, of people. Native Americans, with their heads bowed in grief, sorrow, even panic, as their own memories of similar stories are triggered. African Americans, sitting silently, staring at the ground, as they recall stories of the trauma their ancestors endured as slaves, the free labor force of an emerging nations. Americans of European descent, sitting uncomfortably, even squirming. Their eyes are wide open and their hearts are pounding as they hear stories of a history they had spent a lifetime denying existed.

Over the meal, even though the seating is open, the tables are mostly segregated and the room is unusually quiet. Food is eaten, napkins are folded, the garbage is dumped, as everyone solemnly returns to the room where more stories of a similar nature are shared.

This process is repeated the next day, and the next. Some of the voices are angry, some are broken, some are resentful, but a few are hopeful.

As the days progress and more and more stories are shared, subtle changes begin to take place. The room is opened up to create more space. The story tellers are standing taller. The audience is beginning to make eye contact. The lunch and dinner tables are noticeably less segregated. There is more conversation. And on the stage behind the podium, a few of the empty chairs are occupied.

A Buried Apology to Native Peoples of the United States: 
December 19, 2014 was the 5th anniversary of an apology given by the US Congress and the President of the United States on behalf of the citizens of the United States to the Indigenous peoples of this land.  Unfortunately, this apology received very little, if any, press over the past half-decade. It was inserted by Senator Sam Brownback (KS) into House Resolution 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act and buried on page 45 in sub-section 8113.

This seven bullet point apology contained no reference to any specific tribe, treaty or injustice and ended with a disclaimer. It was inserted into this bill because Senator Brownback had tried unsuccessfully for about 2 years to get an apology into a stand-alone bill. But that bill never made it out of committee. So he inserted it into an appropriations act. Apparently that was how Congress historically passed Indian Treaties. They found that there was less likely to be opposition when the treaties were a part of large appropriation bills.

The bill passed and went to President Obama's desk to be signed on December 19, 2009. The signing of this bill was private and there was no press conference regarding it. The White House did release a press release about the bill, but no mention was made of the apology contained within it.

You may be wondering how this could be. How could a bill containing an apology from the United States Congress to Native Americans for centuries of injustice be buried so deep and not make any public waves in either political circles or in the media?

I believe it is because of the history this apology is attempting to address. It is a history that is not taught in schools. A history that our leaders don’t know well, but are terrified is true. And a history that most citizens are too ashamed to learn even exists.  It is a history that goes back centuries and affects the very foundations of this nation.

15th Century – Doctrine of Discovery: 
In 1452, Pope Nicholas V wrote the following words in a Papal Bull:
“…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”

This Bull was the first in a series of Papal Bulls written in the 15th century that became known as the Doctrine of Discovery. Essentially, the Doctrine of Discovery was the Church in Europe saying to the Nations of Europe, "whatever land you find that are not ruled by Christian Rulers, those people are less than human and the lands are yours for the taking."

It was the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed European Nations to colonize Africa and enslave the African people. It was also the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christopher Columbus to get lost at sea, land in a “New World” inhabited by millions, and claim to have "discovered" it. Because his doctrine informed him that we, the indigenous peoples, were less than human, and therefore the land was empty.


The Doctrine of Discovery is a systemically racist doctrine.


1776 – Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are; Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Most US citizens can easily recite the above passage, and our leaders and our media frequently refer to these words. It is what we use to justify ourselves to the world. We use it as evidence that as a people, as a nation, we are good. However very few can recite much beyond what was quoted above. If they could, and if they understood something about colonial history, they might not be so quick to reference this declaration.

After the Declaration there is a long list of justification given for why the colonies were declaring their independence from the control of England. And the 7th justification reads:
"He 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."

13 years prior, King George issued the Proclamation of 1763. In this proclamation a line was drawn down the Appalachian Mountains and the colonies were essentially told that they no longer had the right of discovery of the Indian Lands west of Appalachia. Only the crown could thereafter negotiate treaties and buy or sell those lands. This deeply upset the colonies. For they wanted those empty Indian lands and King George was "raising the conditions of new Appropriations of (their rightful) Lands."

Justification 27, the final justification in the list, states:
"He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

How can a declaration that begins by stating "All men are created equal" go on to include justifications that dehumanize the Indian tribes and peoples who were already living in this land? Clearly the founding Fathers had a very narrow definition of who qualified as human. Therefore they could state “ALL men are created equal” because they did not believe that the “merciless Indian Savages” who occupied the empty Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains were actually human.


The Declaration of Independence is a systemically racist document.


1788 – Constitution of the United States of America:
“Article I
Section 2
…Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

After the colonies had won the Revolutionary War and their freedom from the Crown, then they needed to establish guidelines for their grand experiment of building a new nation. In the founding documents they needed to clearly define who "All men" actually referred to. And a plain text reading of the Constitution makes it quite clear; African Slaves and Native Americans are NOT included in the group of ALL.


The Constitution of the United States of America is a systemically racist document.


1823 – Johnson vs. M’Intosh – Supreme Court
“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.”

In 1823, a case, Johnson vs. M’Intosh, was brought before the US Supreme Court. This case involved 2 men of European descent litigating over ownership of a piece of land. One purchased the land from an Indian tribe and the other acquired the land from the Government.

“The court viewed this (the above statement) as a minor procedural act, but in articulating this doctrine, the case took on a meaning far beyond the imaginings of the court. The core of this decision was that the United States inherited the right of discovery from the British following the War of Independence; by stepping foot on North America, settlers had, according to this understanding of discovery, the absolute right to the land on which they stood. This created a situation in which the American government owned a monopoly concerning the purchase of Aboriginal land, which decreased the price of that land. This referred to the papal bulls of the fifteenth century, encoding it in federal case law. This has since been declared a legal fiction, meaning that it has no foundation in law in spite of its common legal and popular usage. It has still been the foundation for legal and policy decisions in Canada and the United States. The impact of Johnson v. M’Intosh is, according to Wilkins and Lomawaima, an Indian policy that ‘rests on a foundation of racism, ethnocentrism, repression of tribal histories, inappropriate policy-making by judicial bodies, and inaccurate historical understandings.’”
(Footnote - 1)

This legal precedent and the Doctrine of Discovery was referenced by the US Supreme Court as recently as 2005.


The Supreme Court of the United States of America is a systemically racist court.


1830 - The Indian Removal Act:
"The Indian Removal Act gave power to the government to make treaties with Native nations that forced them to give up their lands in exchange for land west of the Mississippi.  These treaties on the surface, spoke to a voluntary exchange and removal of nations, though in reality, most of these treaties were made forcefully, by withholding food, through the decimation of food sources, such as the buffalo, and through violent acts including warfare.

  • 1838 “Trail of Tears”. 17,000 Cherokee people were removed from their home territory. As many as 4,000 died on the way, about as many died as a result of the forced march and as many as half of the survivors died within the first year of relocation, due to disease. 
  • The forced removal of the Navajos to Bosque Redondo, a reservation in eastern New Mexico. Collectively known as the “Long Walk” the approximately 400-mile-long series of marches was endured by more than 8,000 men, women, and children. 
  • Many nations including Chickasaw, Shawnee, Lennape, Osage, Kickapoo, Chocktaw, Seminole, Creek, Sauk, Fox, and Dakota all experienced forced relocations."
    (Section taken from: Footnote - 2)

1864 - Sand Creek Massacre:
"On November 29, 1864, approximately 675 United States soldiers under the command of Colonel John Chivington killed more than 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho villagers, mostly elderly men, women, and children, approximately 180 miles southeast of Denver near Eads, Colorado.  Despite assurance from American negotiators that they would be safe, and despite Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle raising both a United States flag and a white flag as symbols of peace, Colonel Chivington ordered his troops to take no prisoners and to pillage and set the village ablaze, violently forcing the ambushed and outnumbered Cheyenne and Arapaho villagers to flee on foot. Colonel Chivington and his troops paraded mutilated body parts of men, women, and children in downtown Denver, Colorado, in celebration of the massacre." (3 - Colorado Senate Joint Resolution 14-030)

1879 - Indian Boarding Schools:
The federal government began sending American Indians to off-reservation boarding schools in the 1870s, when the United States was still at war with Indians. An Army officer, Richard Pratt, founded the first of these schools. He based it on an education program he had developed in an Indian prison. He described his philosophy in a speech he gave in 1892.

"A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one," Pratt said. "In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."

“Beginning in 1887, the federal government began an immersion program.  By 1900, thousands of children were attending close to 150 boarding schools throughout the United States.  The schools sought to strip children of their culture and remove them from the influence of their family and nation.” (Section taken from: Footnote - 2)

"The number of Native American children in the boarding schools reached a peak in the 1970s, with an estimated enrollment of 60,000 in 1973. Investigations of the later twentieth century have revealed many documented cases of sexual, manual, physical and mental abuse occurring at such schools." ("Soul Wound: The Legacy of Native American Schools". Amnesty International USA. Retrieved February 8, 2006)



1887 - Dawes Allotment Act:
“Under the 1887 Allotment Act (Dawes Act) – every man 18 years or older was allotted 160 acres of land.  The idea was designed to settle Native peoples on land, encourage farming, and assimilate them into the broader society.  After all Native men were designated land, the rest was opened up for white settlement.   By 1934, land the United States government allowed Native people to occupy was reduced by about 2/3, which is approximately 156,000 square miles, a land mass roughly the size of Californian.  Of the land that remained unsettled, about1/3 (25,000 square miles) was unfit for most profitable uses, being desert or semi-desert land.”
 (Section taken from: Footnote - 2)

1890 - Massacre at Wounded Knee:
Lakota Chief Big Foot and between 150-350 women, children and warriors are massacred at Wounded Knee.

20 Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to US Soldiers who participated in the massacre.

Numerous efforts have been attempted to have these medals rescinded as this massacre can arguably be seen as a war crime. But every attempt has failed.

1924 - Indian Citizenship Act:
The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 declares all non-citizen Indians born within the United States to be citizens, giving them the right to vote. Non-citizen Indians had to be specified because previous legislation and allowed Indians to apply for and receive US Citizenship if they renounced their allegiance to their tribe.  Despite passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, the right to vote was still governed by state law, and many Native Americans were effectively barred from voting until 1948.  This is an important date to note, because in 1942 several Navajos from the Southwest were enlisted into the United States Marine Corp and asked to develop a top-secret military code for use in World War II. Based on their language these code talkers developed a code so effective that it was never broken and is credited with helping to win the war in the Pacific. However, in 1942 these original code talkers were effectively not even eligible to vote in the country they were being asked to serve.

2007 - United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:
"The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN in 2007.  Initially the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand voted against it, though 143 member states voted for it, and 11 abstained.  It wasn’t until three years later, under pressure from Indigenous Peoples and the international community, that the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia signed on." (Section taken from: Footnote - 2)

2009 - Apology to Native Peoples of the United States:
This apology is buried in H.R. 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. To this day this apology has not been publically announced, publicized or read by the White House or the US Congress.

Why was the apology to Native peoples buried deep within the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act?

The institutions of this nation have been established on the premise that Native Americans and African Americans are not human. They can be enslaved, their lands can be taken and their populations can destroyed, incarcerated or killed without a trial.


The United States of America is a systemically racist nation.


American Exceptionalism:
In 1630, in the colony of Boston, John Winthrop preached a sermon in which he referred to the colony as a “City on a Hill” and reminded them that they must be obedient so God to that "the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it."  This sermon was the Protestant church in America beginning to internalize and adopt the Doctrine of Discovery. It is the colonies, and later the nation, beginning to see their presence in North America as a God-blessed, even a God-ordained, event out of which comparisons to Old Testament Israel and their journey to a "Promised Land" could be drawn. Over the next hundred years or so this thinking matured into an understanding that not only was this new nation a "City on a Hill" but it also had a “Manifest Destiny” to discover, occupy and rule this continent from "sea to shining sea."

Today, our leaders and our institutions continue to ease our guilt and massage our egos by telling us, that as a people, as a nation, we are exceptional. Our educational systems may be failing, our infrastructure may be crumbling, our manufactured and genetically modified foods may be killing us, our technology and consumption may be altering our climate, our middle class may be disappearing, we may be torturing our enemies, we may be aborting our babies, and our minority populations may be forced to scream out that "their lives matter." But, we tell ourselves, "We are exceptional." "We are good." "We have a 'manifest destiny'." And "The United States of America is still a 'City on a Hill'."

As a nation we have to believe that we are exceptional, because if we aren't, if our history is truly this dark, then that means our nation is merely average. If our nation is not exceptional, then our unjust history of discovery, slavery, genocide, theft, torture and dehumanizing the other is no longer justified. If we are merely average, and our existence is not ordained by God, than we can be held accountable for our actions, both past and present, just like everyone else.

So we bury our apologies, we rewrite our history, and we point to the words of our founding fathers who blindly stated that "we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."

We just don't tell anyone that, as a people and as a nation, we have an extremely narrow definition of who is actually human.


The United States of America is not rich and powerful because of God’s blessing. We are rich and powerful because we are systemically racist and inherently unjust.


A Truth Commission: 
2 years ago, on December 19, 2012 I had the privilege of hosting a public reading of the US Apology to Native peoples in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. More than 150 people from throughout the nation traveled, at their own expense, to DC in order to take part in this reading. The Apology was translated into the Navajo and Ojibwe languages. And it was publically read in English, Navajo and Ojibwe.

I spent most of 2012 traveling throughout the United States speaking with leaders from Church denominations and evangelical associations. I delivered letters to members of the House of Representatives and the US Senate. I communicated with the White House and spoke with Governor Sam Brownback (previously Senator Brownback). I visited tribal councils and spoke with tribal leaders. I spoke at educational institutions and with academic leaders. I wrote articles and sent Press Releases to national media outlets and news organizations. But virtually none of these leaders opted to attend and only one national news organization wrote a story regarding the event (CNN – Navajo man wants the nation to hear its official apology).

This experience taught me that the government and institutions of our nation are simply incapable of engaging with this history. The topic is too hot, the liability is too big, and the risks are too great. So that leaves it up to us. You and me. The citizens of the United States of America. Native Americans, African Americans, Americans of European descent, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, recent immigrants to this land as well as immigrants whose families established the original colonies.

The institutions of this nation may be systemically racist, but I do not believe a majority of the citizens are. However, in a nation that is systemically racist, anti-racism is less about personal racist attitudes and more about a willingness to change the system. So if our leaders and our institutions are incapable of addressing these issues I would like to invite the American people to address these issues.

I would like to propose that we begin planning a Truth Commission. A series of national conferences to be held throughout the country that would create space and give platform for indigenous elders and peoples to share their stories and let the truth be known about the abuse, trauma and injustice that they endured. Other countries, such as South Africa and Canada, have held Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that were of a similar nature, but the major difference was the governments and institutions of those countries were compelled through litigation or other circumstances to engage in those conversations.

That is not the case here in the United States, and I am hesitant to try and force our government and institutions to participate through lawsuits. For as was demonstrated above, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Supreme Court are all systemically racist, so in their current form they are incapable of delivering justice regarding these issues.

However, I am also not hopeless regarding our leaders or our institutions, and I would propose that at the Truth Commission gatherings we leave “empty chairs” for the leaders of these governments, organizations and institutions to participate. We leave chairs for President Obama, Pope Francis, state governors and members of Congress. We leave chairs for church denomination heads and leaders of academic institutions. I would even recommend we leave empty chairs for heads of state from other countries that participated in the “discovery” and colonization of this land, such as Spain, England, France and the Netherlands.

Our nations is in agony, and our people are literally crying out in pain. Our history is dark and the path forward is difficult. As a country we need to give up the false notion of our exceptionalism and accept the fact that we are no better than any other nation around the world. We need to remember that this land was not empty and Europeans did not discover it. We need to acknowledge that Africans and African Americans are human and their labor is not free. We need to accept that holidays like Columbus Day are meant to be mourned, not celebrated. We need to own our history, publicize our apologies and accept responsibility for our actions.

Our leaders and our institutions have already demonstrated they are incapable of doing this. So it is up to us. You and me, the citizens of the United States of America, and the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.

I propose that we host the first conference of this Truth Commission in Washington DC in December of 2016. We will have just elected a new President but, President Obama, the signatory of H.R. 3326 and the initiator of the annual Tribal Nations Conference, will still be in office.

President Obama’s signature and lack of acknowledgement of this apology bewilders me.  On May 19, 2008, then, Senator Obama held a campaign event on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Before speaking to the thousands of supporters who attended, a private ceremony was held and Mr. Obama was adopted into the Crow tribe. Sonny and Mary Black Eagle became his adoptive parents and he was given the name "One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.” Ten months after being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, President Obama hosted the first annual Tribal Nations Conference at the White House. Representatives from each of the 560+ federally recognized tribes were invited to attend a day of meetings and discussions with President Obama and members of his Cabinet and staff. While such a meeting is not completely unprecedented, this was the largest such gathering ever held and President Obama is the first President to such meetings annually each year he has been in office.

After all President Obama has done to engage our nation in conversations about race as well as to include the indigenous peoples of this land at the table. I would like to give him an opportunity, as the sitting President of the United States of America, to participate in this dialogue and fill one of the empty chairs.


111210-N-HJ351-039 WASHINGTON (Dec.10, 2011) As fans of the Army and Navy football teams take their seats in FedEx Field, the Army and Navy parachute demonstration teams, the Golden Knights and the Leap Frogs, fly overhead in preparation for their pregame jump into the stadium. The demonstration teams paired up for the jump in the spirit of the interservice rivalry represented by the Army-Navy game. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Meagan E. Klein (Released).
Picture the stadium of a newly renamed football team located in the heart of Washington DC. In the center of the field are representatives from many of the tribes located throughout Turtle Island. They are standing alongside “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.” Smoke wafts from the hundreds of sacred bundles that are smoldering throughout the stadium.  Prayers are said, songs are sung, dances are performed and stories are told.

This gathering is not an event. Nothing is being concluded. No treaties are being signed. No final decisions are being made. But there is a commitment, a resolve. The citizens of the United States and the peoples of Turtle Island have swelled up from the grass roots level and virtually filled the stadium. They have started a conversation and initiated healing.

Everyone understands that this gathering is only the beginning and there is still much work to be done. For the chairs, the ones on the stage behind the podium are still mostly empty. However, there is hope. For the stadium is full and the sheer number of citizens willing to engage these issues and discuss this history has begun to give courage to a few of the institutions and some of their leaders. And each day throughout the gathering there is one or two less empty chairs.


Next Steps: 
I, my family and my organization (5 Small Loaves) are fully committed to the vision of a Truth Commission. But we clearly recognize this is something that we cannot do alone. We need friends, partners, colleagues, supporters and other leaders in order to make this happen. Because of this, my wife Rachel and I have decided to move our family to Washington DC. Building such an extensive network of relationships and partners is going to require a lot of travel, speaking, writing and collaboration. And Fort Defiance AZ, where we currently live, is a 3 hour drive from the nearest airport. Washington DC has 2 major airports. It is a national, even global, hub and a frequent travel destination for countless organizations, leaders and every day citizens. I already have 3 trips planned in the months of January and early February to speak with people who are interested in partnering in this work and I am positive that is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Our plan is to spend the next 6-9 months building a network of support, raising public awareness and gauging national interest. If by August or September of 2015 we determine there is sufficient engagement and interest in a Truth Commission, then we will move into the actual planning stages for the first gathering in Washington DC in December of 2016.


How to get involved: 
  1. Join our email list – Sign-up to receive updates, news and information specifically regarding this work. 
  2. Follow and Share us on Social Media: 
  3. Invite Mark Charles to speak at your conference, college, university, community group or church.
  4. Donate – Donations to this project can be given through the 5 Small Loaves CrowdFunding page on GoFundMe. Donations marked “Truth Commission” will specifically be designated to cover travel, staff and other expenses related to this project. 


*5 Small Loaves does not currently have non-profit status and is unable to provide tax deductible receipts. We are working to establish a fiscal partnership with another organization that will be able to provide us with a 501(c)(3). We expect this partnership to be finalized in the 2015 calendar year. Tax deductible receipts can be obtained for gifts given off-line. Please visit our 5 Small Loaves DONATIONS page for more information

Related Articles:
  1. An Apology, An Appropriations Bill and a Conversation that Never Happened
  2. A Public Reading of the Apology to Native Peoples of the United States
  3. Text of H.R. 3326 Apology to Native Peoples of the United States
  4. YouTube Video of Invitation to Public Reading of H.R. 3326

Footnotes:
  1. The Christian Doctrine of Discovery: A North American History - CRCNA Doctrine of Discovery Task Force - Seth Adama
  2. Quotations from "The Loss of Turtle Island" drawn from script adapted for use in the CRCNA.  The CRCNA acknowledges with deep thanks, the work of MCC USA to develop this content and Kairos Canada's ongoing work on the Blanket Exercise - the inspiration for the US version "the Loss of Turtle Island"