Thursday, June 18, 2015

A day of lament...

Today I lament, I mourn over the life of each and every person that was violently taken in Charleston South Carolina.

I lament that a 5 year old child was robbed of her innocence and forced to "play" dead in order to survive.

I lament that today, the confederate flag is still flying in the Capitol of South Carolina.

I lament the roots of dehumanization that exist within the founding documents of the United States of America; in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Supreme Court case precedents.

I lament that our nation continues to celebrate its racist foundations with holidays like Columbus Day, sports mascots like the Washington Redsk*ns and the putting of faces like Andrew Jackson on our currency.

I lament the deaths of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and countless others.

I lament the words of our political candidates who promise to lead America back to its former "greatness", ignorant of the fact that much of America's "greatness" was built on the exploitation and dehumanization of its people of color.

I lament that today the dominant culture in America is in shock because in the city of Charleston South Carolina one individual committed a single evil and heinous act of violence, while minority communities throughout the country are bracing themselves because the horrors of the past 500 years are continuing into their lifetime.

I lament with every person and community, throughout the history of this nation, who, due to the color of their skin, had to endure marginalization, silence, discrimination, beatings, lynching, cultural genocide, boarding schools, internment camps, mass incarceration, broken treaties, stolen lands, murder, slavery and discovery.

Today I lament that the United States of America does not share a common memory and therefore is incapable of experiencing true community.

Mark Charles (Navajo)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Dilemma of the Fourth of July

The other day I was eating dinner with my wife in a restaurant located in Gallup New Mexico, a border town to the Navajo reservation. Gallup was recently named "Most Patriotic Small Town in America" in a nationwide contest. Soon after sitting down I noticed that we were seated at a table directly facing a framed poster of the Declaration of Independence.

The irony almost made me laugh. 

When our server, who was also native, came to the table, I asked if I could show him something. I then stood up and pointed out that 30 lines below the famous quote "All men are created equal" the Declaration of Independence refers to Natives as "merciless Indian savages." 

The irony was that the restaurant was filled with Native American customers and employees. And there in plain sight, a poster hanging on the wall was literally calling all of us "savages." 

The server was concerned that I might be upset so after our dinner the manager of the restaurant came to our table and asked if everything was OK. I showed her the quote and assured her that I was not trying to cause problems. After more than a decade of living on the Navajo Nation, I have become used to such offenses when I travel outside of our reservation. After the manager left, I noticed that another Native couple seated near us had taken interest in our conversation. So I invited them over and showed them the same offensive line hanging over our table. They were astounded that throughout their entire education they were never told the Declaration referred to Natives in such a way.

If the poster had labeled any other group of people as "savage", or if the source of the words was anything else besides one of our country's founding documents, the restaurant in question would have long ago been sued and the parties responsible for hanging the poster most likely fired. But because the targeted group was Natives, the source was the Declaration of Independence and the responsibility for hanging the poster belonged to the restaurant’s national corporate offices; not only is the poster still hanging today, but on July 4th the entire nation will celebrate the message of this poster and the signing of this Declaration. For we have declared it a national holiday complete with fireworks, parades and speeches. 

This is the dilemma that Native ‘Americans’ face every day. The foundations of the United States of America are blatantly unjust. This land was stolen. Native peoples, Africans and many other minority communities have long been recipients of systemic racism. And the roots of it are right there for the entire world to see, printed in many of our founding documents; like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and United States Supreme Court case rulings.


We announce it. We flaunt it. We celebrate it. 

As a nation we embrace this history because we are largely ignorant of the true nature of our past and have never been held accountable for our actions. As Americans we celebrate our foundations of ‘discovery’ and cling to our narrative of ‘exceptionalism’ because we have been taught that this nation was founded by God on a principle of freedom for all. 

But the reality is that the United States of America exists because this land was colonized by Europeans who used a Doctrine of Discovery to dehumanize, steal from, enslave and even commit cultural genocide against indigenous peoples from both the "New World" and Africa.

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."

Those are wise words that get to the heart of our national problem regarding race. On days like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, the United States of America celebrates its history. But a majority of our citizens celebrate in ignorance. After traveling throughout the country and educating audiences on the Doctrine of Discovery and its influence on our nation, I would estimate that less than 3% of Americans know this history or understand its impact on the current-day situation of Native peoples.

As a nation, the United States of America does not share a common memory, and therefore struggles to have true community.

So this Fourth of July I invite every American to start their day by learning about the Doctrine of Discovery. Allowing the reality of the dehumanizing nature of this doctrine to temper your celebrations. 

You can still light your fireworks and eat your BBQ as you celebrate a hard fought victory over the British. But at the end of the day, I humbly ask you to conclude your celebrations with the following prayer. 

"May God have mercy on the United States of America and give us the courage necessary to create a common memory."


In my blog article “The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair” I educate about the Doctrine of Discovery and propose 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.

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