Truth Be Told

I am currently writing a book about the Doctrine of Discovery along with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. There is a crowdfunding campaign to support the writing process with reward levels that includes SIGNED COPIES of the book once it is released! Click here for more information.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Public Reading of the Apology to Native Peoples of the United States.

On December 19, 2012 I had the privilege of hosting a Public Reading of the Apology to Native Peoples of the United States in front of the US Capitol in Washington DC.  This apology was buried in H.R. 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.  It was signed by President Obama on Dec. 19, 2009 but was never announced, publicized or read publicly by either the White House or the 111th Congress. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Respecting the Indigenous hosts of this land


On Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11 AM EST I am hosting a public reading of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.  I am doing so because page 45 of this 67 page document contains a generic, non-binding apology to native peoples on behalf of the citizens of the United States. This apology was not publicized by the White House or Congress, nor has it been read publicly by President Obama. As a result, a majority of the 350 million citizens of the United States do not know they have been apologized for.  And most of the 5 million Indigenous Peoples of this land do not know they have been apologized to.

Throughout his term in office President Obama has made significant and intentional steps to invite Native American leaders to the table and to include them in the conversation.  For that I am thankful. 

I also appreciate the sincere efforts that Governor Brownback has made to raise the need for an apology to the Indigenous Peoples of this land.

And it is meaningful that the 111th Congress passed legislation that both contained an apology to native Peoples and urged the President and State governments to seek reconciliation.

However, the wording of this apology and the way it was buried in an unrelated document is not the most appropriate or respectful way to speak to the indigenous hosts of this land.  Additionally, it is concerning that this apology has not been clearly communicated to our elders, many of whom personally endured the horrors of boarding schools, re-location, and disenfranchisement. 

So on the third anniversary of the signing of this Act, I have reserved space in front of the US Capitol.  On that day, a diverse group of citizens are coming together to publically read H.R. 3326.  The appropriations portion of this bill (pages 1–45) will be read by the Native Americans in attendance in an effort to respectfully, yet clearly, highlight the irony of burying such important and historic words in a Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

I am also working to have the apology portion of this Act (sub-section 8113) translated into several Native languages.  These translations will be read by some of the non-native people in attendance. This will serve as a reminder that when an apology is made it should be communicated as clearly and sincerely as possible to the intended audience.

This Act has already been written, passed, and signed.  Now it needs to be publicized so its intended audience can hear it and respond to it.  But, I do not want the conversation to end there. 

Over the years, I have had the privilege to travel throughout much of our country and even to many parts of the world. One question I am frequently asked is, "How does it feel to be Native American and live in the United States?"  I often use this image to articulate to people how it feels:

Being Native American and living in the United States feels like our indigenous peoples are an old grandmother who lives in a very large house. It is a beautiful house with plenty of rooms and comfortable furniture. But, years ago, some people came into our house and locked us upstairs in the bedroom. Today, our house is full of people. They are sitting on our furniture. They are eating our food. They are having a party in our house. They have since unlocked the door to our bedroom but it is much later and we are tired, old, weak and sick; so we can't or don't come out. But the part that is the most hurtful and that causes us the most pain, is that virtually no one from this party ever comes upstairs to find us in the bedroom, sits down next to us on the bed, takes our hand, and simply says, "Thank you. Thank you for letting us be in your house."

One thing that has been taken from our Indigenous Peoples has been our ability and the opportunity to be the hosts of this land. In fact, today, we are so far removed from the role of host that we often feel like forgotten guests in our own home.

The result of this reversal of roles is that a huge chasm exists between Native America and the rest of the United States.  Pain and misunderstanding are deep, and respect and partnership are minimal. 

Following the reading of H.R. 3326 and the apology enclosed therein, I will come forward and share some of my story, concluding with this image of the grandmother in the house.  In the past, when I have communicated this image publically, I have frequently been approached by individuals, both Natives and non-Natives.  Many Natives have thanked me for articulating our pain in a way they have never had the words for.  And many non-Natives have approached me and thanked me, for letting them live in our house.  I cannot control people’s response nor do I even want to demand it.  But I can share my thoughts and then allow space for people to respond and for understanding to grow. 

So I invite you to consider my words.  I invite you to attend this event on December 19, 2012.  And I invite you to respond to my analogy of the grandmother in the house.  Together, we have an opportunity to lead our country into a conversation that has never before taken place between the indigenous hosts of this land and the immigrants who have traveled here from every corner of the earth.

This event will not mark the end of this journey but rather the beginning.  It is my hope that we can establish safe and honest common ground where a national conversation for reconciliation between Native America and the rest of our country can begin.

To confirm your presence at this event please RSVP on my website:
wirelesshogan.com/us_apology_to_natives/rsvp

This event will also be streamed LIVE at 11 AM EST on Dec. 19, 2012 on my Wirelesshogan YouTube Channel:
http://www.youtube.com/wirelesshogan

Or join our Facebook Page:

You can also contact me directly at:

A'he'hee'.
Mark Charles

This post was first published on June 6, 2012 at 1:10 PM MDT.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A More Perfect Union



If I had to translate her words into Navajo, I would say “ádin.” Ádin means nothing, none, zero.

I couldn't believe my ears. I was visiting Iowa in the first week of January during an election year. Presidential candidates were crisscrossing the state—kissing babies, shaking hands, and pleading for the vote of everyone they met. Campaign events were taking place in high school gymnasiums, community centers, and local businesses throughout the state. Many of the people I met had personal stories of meeting one of the candidates, shaking their hands, and talking about their issues. There are 99 counties in the state of Iowa, and a few of the candidates were taking the time to stop and hold campaign events in each and every one of them. But there I was, just a day before the caucuses, standing in the community center and tribal offices of the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama, Iowa, with the tribe’s executive director telling me that not a single presidential candidate had held a campaign event in their community.

I shouldn't have been surprised. After all I live on the Navajo Reservation. Our reserve is nearly 26,000 square miles with about 300,000 enrolled tribal members, and I cannot recall in my lifetime a presidential candidate visiting our reservation and campaigning directly to our people. 

But for some reason I thought Iowa, during the primary season, would be different. There, retail politics is the norm and EVERY vote is supposed to count. But as I learned that afternoon, that is not entirely true. Even for tribes living in the middle of one of the most heavily campaigned to states in our country, I learned that the Founding Fathers’ vision for this country still prevailed in 2012. 

As a nation we often point to the document signed in 1776 as the foundation of our freedoms and the declaration of our principals. We hold up the country’s Founding Fathers as great visionaries; men who had a hope of a world of equality. But that is a myth. A legend. Their statement, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." was not a Declaration of Independence for many of the people who lived in this land. Rather, it was a Declaration of Dominance, a change of masters, a limitation of freedom, and for some, the foundation for genocide.  For we learned a few years later, when many of these same men penned the Constitution of the United States of America, that "all men" did not refer to women, African slaves, or Native Americans. These groups were specifically excluded from participation in this grand experiment. Their wombs, their labor, and their lands would be used. But the people, the individuals, and their communities would not be allowed to participate.

As this country expanded, specific policies were implemented against Native Americans such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which gave legal cover for atrocities, such as the Trail of Tears for the Cherokee in 1838 and the Long Walk for the Navajo in 1864. This country wanted our land, but not our vote. They wanted our resources, but not our voices. In fact, Native Americans were one of the last groups to receive the right to vote.  The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted us citizenship and the right to vote. But, because voting is a states’ right, the states of New Mexico and Arizona effectively barred Native Americans from voting until 1948. (ACLU - Timeline: Voting Rights Act)

By studying our history, learning about these policies, and living on our reservation, I have experienced firsthand that our Founding Fathers’ vision was to create a nation where the indigenous peoples of this land would have as little opportunity as possible to participate in or influence the governance of this country. Out of sight and out of mind is where they wanted us. And to that end, they were largely successful.

Even today, presidential candidates are able to campaign and get elected without ever needing to court the Native American vote. Decisions regarding tribal sovereignty and treaty rights have been delegated to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, now a part of the Department of the Interior.  Our country can hold a national debate on immigration reform without soliciting input from indigenous peoples, who for over 500 years have borne the brunt of injustices perpetrated by “undocumented immigrants.” 

But for me, the last straw that demonstrated the need for more immediate change was when I learned that on December 19, 2009 the US government officially apologized to Native peoples without even speaking to us. Page 45 of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326) contains a buried "Apology to Native Peoples of the United States." This non-specific, non-binding apology was never publicized, announced, or publically read by Congress or the President.

This apology and the way it was buried demonstrated the severity of the situation, and that even today, in the 21st Century, Native peoples are not considered equals in this land. So I decided that I had to respond. If my government did not have the respect to read this apology and communicate it directly to the elders, leaders, and peoples of our Native communities, then I would do it—honestly, respectfully, and publically.

On the third anniversary of the signing of this Act, I have reserved space near the Reflecting Pool in front of the US Capitol.  On that day, a diverse group of citizens are coming together to publically read H.R. 3326.  The appropriations portion of this bill (pages 1–45) will be read by the Native Americans in attendance in an effort to respectfully, yet clearly, highlight the irony of burying such important and historic words in a Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

The apology portion of this Act (sub-section 8113) will be translated into several native languages and be read by some of the non-native people in attendance. This will serve as a reminder to our leaders that when an apology is made, it should be communicated as clearly, sincerely, and respectfully as possible to the intended audience.

I am proud to be Navajo, and I am proud to be an American.  I love this country, and I love our land. I know history cannot be changed, but I do believe the trajectory it puts us on can be adjusted. I want to teach my children that they can read the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution with pride and hope—not because the Founding Fathers were perfect, but because they acknowledged they were beginning a journey. They created a government where leadership was not inherited and wrote a constitution that could be amended.

One of the reasons the swearing into office of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States was such a historic event both for our country and the world, was because as a nation we demonstrated that our real strength is found, not in our wealth or in our military might, but in our ability to change, to learn, and to adapt. The Founding Fathers may not have ever envisioned that the Union they were establishing would someday elect as its leader someone who did not look like them. But we did, and while the transition was bumpy and the last four years have had its fair share of turmoil, it happened and as a country we have grown.

So I am inviting you—our nation— leaders, citizens, immigrants and Native peoples to join me on December 19, 2012, in front of the US Capitol Building and respectfully read H.R. 3326 and the apology enclosed therein. To take another step in this journey by beginning A New Conversation in our never ending quest to 'walk in beauty' and form a more perfect union.

Ahe'hee',

Mark Charles

My (Native) Vote

My early voting ballot is almost complete. I have done my reading, finished my research, and ignored a sufficient amount of robo-calls and attack ads. I have made my choices for county school superintendent, state representatives, and even US Senator. But there is a gaping hole at the top of my ballot...

It is November 6, 2012, and after more than a year of carefully following the presidential campaigns I still do not know which candidate I am going to vote for. I am an independent voter but registered as a democrat.  On my Facebook page I identify my political position as "a morally-conservative Democrat or a fiscally-irresponsible Republican."

I live on the Navajo Reservation, and for the past six years I have been brainstorming and discussing ways our country can more intentionally include Native American into the political process. And this was going to be my break out year; I was going to do everything I could to engage with the candidates. I knew from history that they would make very little, if any, effort to court the Native American vote. So I made plans to engage with them.

In January, I flew to Iowa and New Hampshire, where I attended rallies, stopped by campaign offices, and visited campaign events. I wrote letters that I hand delivered to campaign offices and also published online. I also made numerous visits to Washington DC. I wrote letters to the White House and traversed the halls of the Senate and House offices on Capitol Hill in an effort to reach out and engage with anyone who would talk with me. 

And after 12 months, thousands of dollars in travel expenses and weeks away from my community and my family.....NOTHING.  The Native American vote was once again largely ignored, and I did not get a single response from either candidate to discuss native issues.

I should have known from the beginning it was going to be an uphill battle.

Last November Mitt Romney released a campaign ad where he promised that he "would never apologize for the United States of America.” This did not sit well with me as a Native American, so I responded with an article that I published on Dec. 19, 2011 (Indianz: Mitt Romney vows never to apologize for US).

Through some comments that were made to that article that I learned that exactly 2 years earlier President Obama had signed the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326). On page 45 of this 67 page bill, was an "Apology to Native Peoples of the United States." This apology had never been announced, publicized, or publically read by Congress or President Obama. Even the press release from the White House regarding the signing of H.R. 3326 made absolutely no mention of the enclosed apology.

So now I was in a real quandary. On one side of the aisle there was a candidate who was boldly stating to the country (and the world) that he would "never apologize for the Unites State of America." And on the other side of the aisle was the sitting President who did apologize but never bothered to tell anyone about it.

Over the past year, I did not spend a lot of time listening to the rhetoric from either campaign, nor did I put a lot of weight in either of the candidate’s words. Instead, I tried to look at their character, their courage, and their integrity.

Fiscal Responsibility:
It's hard to believe either candidate is going to be a true advocate for fiscal responsibility when this has been the most expensive election in history. Over $2 billion has been raised and spent on this campaign! Yes, that is billion with a "B." To me that is like applying for a position as a dietician or a personal trainer and walking into the interview 100 lbs overweight with a Big-Mac in one hand, a Super-Big Gulp in the other, french fries stuffed into your pockets, and chocolate frosting covering your lips! It’s hard to take their words seriously.

Bi-partisanship:
It is also hard to believe the promises of either candidate to reach across the aisle and lead our “entire” country when almost every word coming out of both of their mouths for the past year has an attack on the other. If a presidential candidate is truly serious about reaching across the aisle and forging some sort of compromise, you would think that process would begin by showing a little respect to his political opponent and his ideas.

Please understand, I not bitter, nor am I despondent. I merely feel a need to voice my thoughts and articulate some of my frustrations before this campaign is over. I also want to encourage our candidates, both of them, one last time:

“You can do better.”

You can get your message out without breaking the bank. In age of the internet, we live in a world where you have the ability to communicate with a national, even global audience, for the price of a library card. A billion dollars may add more flash and repetition, but it does very little for the content and substance of your message.  A little creativity goes a long way and can save a ton of money.

You can also gain support without demonizing your opponent. There is a serious cost to campaigning primarily to your base. If you want to be President of the entire country, then you need to be willing to stand in the middle, between all sides, EVERY day. If you can't learn to do that when you are campaigning for office, then you will not be able to do it effectively when you are in office.

And finally, regarding the apology:

I hope Mr. Romney learns that the world is run through relationships and that the office of the President of the United States is the most relationally complex office he will ever encounter. If he wants to be taken seriously as a candidate for this office and if he hopes to positively represent our country in the US and throughout the world, then I promise him, he will have to learn to apologize.

And while I appreciate the sincere efforts that President Obama has made to engage with Native leaders and communities, I feel a strong need to exhort his courage.  For when you do apologize, you MUST communicate it. Clearly. Humbly. And Respectfully.  Ignoring it doesn’t help. Stuffing it in a bill that no one will ever read doesn’t help. And making casual references to it in a proclamation three years later doesn’t help.

No one would marry a spouse or go into business with a partner who vowed never to apologize. And no marriage or business partnership would last if one of the partners never communicated their apologies, but instead just assumed they were known.

President Obama and Governor Romney, if you want my vote for the office of the “most powerful man in the world,” then you going to have to demonstrate an ability to be one of the humblest men on earth.

So who am I going to vote for?  I am not sure.  But fortunately I have a few more hours to figure it out.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Definition of Racial Reconciliation

"In obedience to God, racial reconciliation is a commitment to building cross-cultural relationships of forgiveness, repentance, love and hope that result in walking in beauty with one another and God."

Years ago, when I was called to pastor the Christian Indian Center in Denver CO, the Creator put a burden on my heart to understand his heart and his call for Racial Reconciliation.  So I started a small group and we did a survey of the Bible looking at as many references and stories in the Old and New Testaments that we could find regarding Racial Reconciliation.  The above definition is what we came up with.

Mark Charles

Additional resources regarding Reconciliation:
- A Native American Perspective on Columbus Day (YouTube)
- Reconciliation, Justice and Worship (Blogger)
- A Public Reading of the "Apology to Native Peoples of the United States" (Blogger)

To contact me or to submit a speaking request. Please visit my website (wirelesshogan)




Monday, September 17, 2012

Excerpts from UNSR report on "The Situation of indigenous peoples in the United States of America"

James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, published his report on "The Situation of indigenous peoples in the United States of America".  In his report he made 5 references to the Apology to Native Peoples that is buried in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326), including calling on President Obama and Congress to publicize and act on this apology.

On a funny side note, I was mentioned in the appendix (page 45) as the "Wooden Shoe People representative".  LOL


http://unsr.jamesanaya.org/country-reports/the-situation-of-indigenous-peoples-in-the-united-states-of-america

Pg 17

74. The Special Rapporteur notes that the Government took a step that could be one on a path toward reconciliation, when in 2010 Congress adopted a resolution of apology to the indigenous peoples of the country, following in the spirit of the apology previously issued to Native Hawaiians (para. 65 above). Acknowledging widespread wrongdoing, the Apology states: “The United States, acting through Congress … apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States for the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States [and] expresses its regret”. The apology also “urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land. The full text of the apology bears reading. However, strangely, the apology was buried deep in a defense appropriations act, and apparently few indigenous people, much less the public in general, were made aware of it.

Pg 18
75. Such an apology should not go unnoticed. Rather, it should be a point of public awakening and mark a path toward reconciliation, a path for concrete steps to address issues whose resolution is essential to defeating disharmony, and a path toward more enlightened framing of relations between indigenous peoples and the United States.


Pg 21
97.  In following up to the apology resolution adopted by Congress in 2010, which directs the President to pursue reconciliation with the country’s indigenous peoples, the President should develop, in consultation with them, a set of relevant initiatives in accordance with paragraphs 87-92 above. As an initial measure, the President should make the apology resolution widely known among indigenous peoples and the public at large, in a way that is appropriate to the sensitivities and aspirations of indigenous peoples, and within a broader programme that contributes to public education about indigenous peoples and the issues they face.


Pg 22
100. Congress should, in consultation with indigenous peoples, enact legislative reforms or altogether new legislation as required to achieve the reconciliation called for in its apology resolution of 2010.


Pg 45
116. Wooden Shoe People representative: Working to bring attention to the non-binding apology to Native Americans on behalf of the citizens of the United States that was included in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill.


Mark Charles

Friday, September 14, 2012

Press Release: Public Reading of the US Apology to Native Peoples


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  September 14, 2012
Contact: Mark Charles, (336) 462-8256; mcharles@wirelesshogan.com

"Public Reading of the US Apology to Native Peoples"
 
Fort Defiance, AZ – In Washington, DC, on December 19th at 11 am, the area in front of the US Capitol Building will become the stage for a national apology to Native Americans.

A diverse group of citizens, led by Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation, will host a public reading of the apology to native peoples of the United States, which is buried on page 45 of the 67 page-long 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326).  This date marks the third anniversary of the passing of H.R. 3326, and the apology.

The generic, non-binding apology, found in subsection 8113, was inserted by Senator Brownback (R-KS), who is now the Governor of Kansas.  This apology to native peoples on behalf of the citizens of the United States was not publicized by the White House or Congress at the time it was passed, nor has it been read publicly by President Obama.

When asked about what prompted him to initiate this public reading, Mark Charles said, “The wording of this apology and the way it was buried in an unrelated document were not appropriate or respectful ways to speak to the indigenous hosts of this land.”  Additionally, he stated, “this apology has not been clearly communicated to Native American elders, many of whom personally endured the horrors of boarding schools, re-location, and disenfranchisement.”

The appropriations portion of this bill (pages 1–45) will be read by the Native Americans in attendance in an effort to respectfully, yet clearly, highlight the irony of burying such important and historic words in a Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

The apology portion of this Act (sub-section 8113) will be translated into several native languages.  These translations will be read by some of the non-native people in attendance.  This will serve as a reminder that when an apology is made it should be communicated as clearly and sincerely as possible to the intended audience.

The event will conclude with an opportunity for some of those in attendance, both native and non-native, to publically respond.

Charles plans to share a vivid analogy regarding his reflections on the conflict of being Navajo in a country that fought against and colonized his people:

Being Native American and living in the United States feels like our indigenous peoples are an old grandmother who lives in a very large house. It is a beautiful house with plenty of rooms and comfortable furniture. But, years ago, some people came into our house and locked us upstairs in the bedroom. Today, our house is full of people. They are sitting on our furniture. They are eating our food. They are having a party in our house. They have since unlocked the door to our bedroom but it is much later and we are tired, old, weak and sick; so we can't or don't come out. But the part that is the most hurtful and that causes us the most pain, is that virtually no one from this party ever comes upstairs and finds us in the bedroom, sits down next to us on the bed, takes our hand, and simply says, "Thank you. Thank you for letting us be in your house."

This will not mark the end of this journey but rather the beginning.  It is the hope of the organizers that this event can establish safe and honest common ground where a national conversation for reconciliation between Native America and the rest of the country can begin.


About Mark Charles:
Mark Charles is a consultant, speaker and blogger who frequently travels throughout the United States and the world, engaging with Native Americans and other indigenous communities.  He advocates for their rights and seeks ways to establish their voice within religious, educational and government institutions. His website is www.wirelesshogan.com and a video promoting this event can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE7149KdZOk.


Additional contact information:
Mark Charles
Web: wirelesshogan.com
Twitter: @wirelesshogan
Blog: wirelesshogan.blogspot.com

-END-

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Praying for the Navajo People

Recently I was asked by a missionary from a church that has been working on our Navajo Reservation for a number of years, if I would be willing to write out some prayer requests for our people. I took several weeks to ponder this request as praying for the Navajo people is a tricky thing. It is so easy to focus on, and become overwhelmed by, our needs; unemployment, alcohol abuse, diabetes, broken families, suicides, and the list goes on and on. But I do not think focusing solely on these symptoms and praying only for their relief is all that is needed. Absolutely these issues need to be addressed, but the root, the cause of these symptoms is so much deeper.

For centuries our Navajo people, like all Native Americans, have been told by both the government and the church that we cannot be who we are. We have been told that if we want to live and have salvation, we must become something else. We must become American. And that is a lie. Our country needs us to be who God created us to be. And the church needs us to be who God created us to be. God has given us a unique language, culture, world view and history. They are no better than anyone else's but neither are they any worse. They are different. And in the Kingdom of God diversity is welcomed and different is necessary.

So when you pray for us, I ask you to pray that we will have the strength, the courage and the confidence to be who God created us to be. Also, please pray for the rest of the country and for the broader Church. Pray that their eyes will be opened and they will realize what they are missing when they embrace the worldly value of assimilation instead of celebrating the Kingdom value of diversity. In the Kingdom of God every part of the body is unique and every member is necessary. It is only when the parts of the body are diverse that the body is able to function. I thank you for your prayers and I thank you for your partnership in the Gospel

 Ahe'hee,

 Mark Charles


 P.S. I wrote these prayer requests on behalf of my people (Navajo), but by no means do I think these prayers are only for us. So I invite you to use them in your prayers for all tribes and indigenous peoples to whom you feel they are applicable.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Unity is the fruit of Diversity

2,000 years ago the Creator faced a challenge.  He wanted the world to know about the death and resurrection of his Son.  At that time there were Jews from ALL over the known world in Jerusalem but they did not speak the same language.  The Creator had 2 options.  He could have either allowed EVERYONE to speak Hebrew or Greek.  Or He could have allowed the disciples to speak the languages of the Nations.  He chose the latter.

If the Creator wanted, he could have established an assimilated language and culture for his Church right there.  But he didn't.  He instead chose to embed cultural and linguistic diversity deep into the DNA of his Body!  Thereby assuring a vibrant and uniquely gifted Church, but also one that would constantly be in need of reconciliation. 

I praise God for Pentecost Sunday.  It reminds me, and hopefully the rest of the Church, that the Creator cares deeply about our cultures and languages.  And from the beginning He intended for his body to be diverse. 

We are not ONE because we are all the same.  If that were true there would be no reason for the Head (Christ).  But instead each part is uniquely different and we are completely dependent upon Christ.  For it is the Head that unifies the Body.

Jesus ahe'hee'.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Laughing Party

 “Has your baby laughed?”

On the Navajo reservation, that’s a common question posed to parents who have infants around the age of three months. The first laugh of a Navajo child is a very significant event. It marks the child’s final passing from the spirit world to the physical world, meaning he or she is now fully human and present with us. This milestone warrants a party, and what a party it is!

The honor of throwing this party, including covering the expenses, falls to the person who made the child laugh first—a parent or someone else. That person takes charge of butchering sheep, preparing food, gathering rock salt, putting candy and gifts into bags, and inviting friends from near and far.

Once a baby has laughed, training in generosity begins immediately—a value held in high regard among our people. At the party, where the baby is considered the host, the parents or person responsible for the first laugh help hold the baby’s hand as he or she ceremonially gives the rock salt, food, and gifts to each guest. The rock salt is eaten immediately, and then the plate is received. There are also bags of candy, money, and other presents that the child “gives” along with the food.

When our daughter, Shandiin, was a baby, my niece came for a visit and made her laugh for the first time. It wasn’t a burp or a coo; it was a definite laugh. My niece was both proud and horrified. Proud, because she was the one who initiated this significant step for our daughter. And horrified, because as a teenager, she knew she did not have enough money to pay for the entire party herself. My wife and I quickly assured her we would help cover the expenses.

So the planning began. A menu was prepared, a guest list written, and a date set. We had just moved into a small house in Fort Defiance, but for the previous three years we had been living in a traditional Navajo hogan in a remote section of our reservation. (Traditionally, the hogan is not only the center of family life but also of religious life. Even today when many Navajo families live in modern houses, they keep a hogan where important family celebrations and traditional ceremonies are held.) So we knew where we would hold the laughing party—at our hogan. It was farther away and, depending on the weather, could be difficult to reach, but it was by far the most appropriate place.

Creating the guest list was a challenge. For the past ten years I have been involved in seeking ways to contextualize Christian faith and worship for the Navajo culture. Unfortunately, when the first Christian missionaries came to our people, they brought not only the Good News of Jesus Christ, but also Western culture and taught it as the most appropriate context in which to worship. I typically refer to this experience as being “colonized by the gospel.” And many other indigenous tribes in our country and around the world have endured similar experiences.

Because of this influence, many Navajo Christians are strongly opposed to using many aspects of traditional Navajo culture in Christian worship. Some Navajos also argue that the traditional religion is deeply intertwined with cultural practices, making distinctions difficult.  But I also have many Christian partners from our tribe who also question those views. When we get together, we like to share practices we have discovered that contextualize worship for our culture. Ninety-nine percent of the time, such sharing takes place in our homes or hogans, not in church.

Now, I wanted to invite people from both camps to Shandiin’s laughing party. If we were only going to enjoy a dinner, give out gifts, sing hymns, and pray, there probably wouldn’t be any chance for controversy. We might even be able to get away with holding the party in a church because among church-going Navajo Christians, this is one of the traditional celebrations most widely practiced.

But we wanted to contextualize this celebration as much as possible. We had asked one of my elders to sing worship songs that he wrote, which drew on our cultural traditions. He likes to take passages from the Navajo Bible and simply sing the words, allowing the natural intonation of the Navajo language to dictate the tune instead of the Western music. The result is that his songs sound like those sung by traditional medicine men, and many Navajo Christians believe that sound is inappropriate when worshipping the God of the Bible. He would argue that the primary difference is that the medicine man knows how to sing the Navajo language, while the missionary does not. Navajo is a tonal language, so intonation affects the meaning of words, while the opposite is true of English. English intonation can easily conform to the melody of a song and not lose meaning. Most Navajo churches sing songs from the Navajo Hymnal, which contains English hymns translated into Navajo. Unfortunately, the melody was not translated along with the words!. The result: many Navajo words in the hymns are no longer pronounced correctly, making them nonsensical or even take on different meanings.

In the end, we decided to invite people with strong opinions from both sides of this issue. I have to admit that on that morning, I was questioning our judgment and felt nervous. I did not want a passionate, divisive theological debate dominating my daughter’s laughing party.

As soon as our guests began to arrive, we put meat on the grill, and the celebration began. Our group was diverse: culturally, theologically, and even socio-economically. Navajos, Americans, and Canadians came. Indigenous people, as well as first-generation immigrants from the Netherlands. People fluent in English, Navajo, and Dutch. We had shepherds, pastors, political leaders, computer programmers, teachers, missionaries, and rug weavers. There were Christians and those who practiced the traditional Navajo religion. But we were all there to celebrate one thing: my daughter’s first laugh.

Shandiin learned her lessons in generosity by giving food, gifts, and even blessings to everyone in attendance. She honored her elders and paid respect to her relatives. Then I invited my friend to share some of his contextualized worship songs. He took out his drum, tightened his headband, and led us in worship. His words were from the Scriptures, but the tune and melody of his songs came from the Navajo culture.

I waited for people to walk out, but no one left. I watched for expressions of disapproval or discomfort but saw none. So we continued. After a time of singing, I invited people to pray for Shandiin—that she would grow up to be a generous and loving person and that she would know the joy that comes from the LORD. Beautiful prayers were offered in Navajo, English, and even Dutch.

As conversations concluded and people began leaving, I once again listened for voices of disapproval. Instead, I received comments such as, “This was one of the best worship times I have ever experienced!”

True worship, like true love, can be illusive. It cannot be demanded, concocted, or coerced. Instead, it must flow out naturally from a heart uninhibited in enjoying the presence of the Creator.

Our worship that afternoon did not take place in a church; it was not led by a theologically trained member of the clergy. I cannot even know for sure that everyone present was worshipping in the name of Jesus. But I do know the Creator was there, and I trust he was pleased. We experienced a small taste of Heaven that afternoon, all because we chose to contextualize our worship, so it made sense for our surroundings:

•    We met in a hogan.
•    We heard the name of Jesus proclaimed in three different languages.
•    We worshipped with songs reflecting traditional Navajo ceremonial singing.
•    And we celebrated a gift that the Creator had given—the gift of laughter.

(This article was originally published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Grandmother in the House


During his official visit to the United States I had the privilege of personally, and publically, addressing James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Below is a summary of the 5 minute presentation I gave to him.  I welcome your comments and feedback:

To James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,
Ya’at’eeh, my name is Mark Charles. I am of the Wooden Shoe People, and I am born for the Water Flows Together People. My maternal Grandfather is also of the Wooden Shoe clan and my Paternal Grandfather is of the Bitter Water Clan.

I have had the privilege to travel throughout much of our country and even to many parts of the world. One question I am frequently asked is "How does it feel to be Native American and live in the United States?"

It took me a long time to know how to answer that question. I found that if I answered it completely honestly, then my words were so full of emotion and even anger that it shutdown any conversation But if I tempered my answer, in an effort to keep people engaged, I felt dissatisfied because I was not adequately articulating what I was feeling. Finally I began using this image to describe to people how it feels:

Being Native American and living in the United States feels like our indigenous peoples are an old grandmother who lives in a very large house. It is a beautiful house with plenty of rooms and comfortable furniture. But, years ago, some people came into our house and locked us upstairs in the bedroom. Today our house is full of people. They are sitting on our furniture. They are eating our food. They are having a party in our house. They have since unlocked the door to our bedroom but now it is much later and we are tired, old, weak and sick; so we can't or don't come out. But the part that is the most hurtful and that causes us the most pain, is that virtually no one from this party ever comes upstairs to find us in the bedroom, sits down next to us on the bed, looks us in the eye, and simply says, "Thank you. Thank you for letting us be in your house."

I think something that has been taken from our indigenous peoples has been our ability, and the opportunity, to be the host people of this land. And in fact, today, we are so far removed from the role of host that we often feel like forgotten guests in our own home.

This neglect is evidenced in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill that President Obama signed on December 19, 2009. Page 45 of this 67 page document contains a generic, non-binding apology to Native Americans on behalf of the citizens of the United States. This apology was never announced by the White House or Congress, nor has it been read publicly by the President. In fact, most of the country, including the nearly 5 million Native Americans who live here as citizens, do not even know it exists!

I do not feel that this apology, and the way it was buried, is an appropriate or respectful way to speak to the indigenous hosts of this land.  I am especially hurt that his apology was never clearly communicated to our elders, many of whom endured the horrors of disenfranchisement, re-location and boarding schools.  So for the third anniversary of the signing of this bill, I have reserved the space in front of the US Capitol building.  On that day I, and a diverse group of Citizens, are hosting a public reading of H.R. 3326.

Our mission is to invite our nation's citizens and leaders, as well as members of the global community, to gather at the US Capitol on December 19, 2012 and join our efforts to communicate as publically, as humbly and as respectfully as possible the contents of H.R. 3326 (and the apology enclosed therein) to the Native American tribes, communities and citizens of the United States of America.

It is our hope that this event will establish safe and honest common ground where a national conversation for reconciliation between our country and Native America can begin.
Mr. Anaya, I would like to invite you, both personally, and as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to join us.  I also would ask you to communicate these stories and this invitation to the United Nations and to the broader global community. 

And finally, I would like to thank you.

Thank you for hosting this conference.  Thank you for seeking out the host people of this land, for sitting down next to us and looking us in the eye.  And thank you for listening to our stories and hearing our concerns. 

A'he'hee' shi'naai.
(My older brother, I thank you)

Mark Charles

Monday, March 12, 2012

An Apology, an Appropriations Bill, and a Conversation That Never Happened


You are invited.  I have reserved the space in front of the US Capitol for December 19, 2012, and the entire country is invited.  Every citizen, every immigrant, every leader, every member of Congress, every President (present, former and aspiring) is invited to join me for a public reading of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, H.R. 3326.  

My name is Mark Charles.  I am not an elected official, I do not lead an organization, nor do I work solely for a specific group or company. I am merely the son of an American woman of Dutch heritage and a Navajo man, who is living on the Navajo Reservation and trying to understand the complexities of our country’s history regarding race, culture and faith so that I can help forge a path of healing and reconciliation for our people.

What do Native America, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, and reconciliation have to do with each other?  And why am I inviting you to join me in reading this document publically?  

I am doing so because of what is found on pages 45 and 46.  These pages contain sub-section 8113 titled "Apology to Native Peoples of the United States."

I was shocked, confused, embarrassed and ashamed when I learned, 2 years after the fact, that the US government had issued an apology to its Native American citizens, but did very little to publicize it, and even seemed intent on burying it in a 67-page Defense Department appropriations bill.  The White House issued a press release regarding the signing of this bill but it made no mention of the enclosed apology.  As far as I can find, sub-sections 8113 was not read publically until six months later, in May of 2010, when Senator Sam Brownback (KS) read it in a small ceremony with only a handful of Native American leaders present.  Of the few articles I could find about this apology, many expressed the same sentiment as one published in Indian Country Today on December 3, 2011, which was titled, "A Tree Fell in the Forest: The U.S. Apologized to Native Americans and No One Heard a Sound."

I was shocked.  Was this how more than 500 years of injustice, disenfranchisement, boarding schools, broken treaties, stolen lands, war and for some tribes, genocide, was supposed to end, with a silent apology?  

I was confused.  What went on behind the scenes?  What kinds of deals were made?  Who was involved in the negotiations?  Did anyone really think that a compromise which resulted in our government issuing an apology, but not speaking about it would solve anything?  And what is the next step supposed to be?

I was embarrassed.  My mother is the descendant of immigrants from the Netherlands.  I share in the heritage of the immigrants to this land.  I know my ancestors were wrong for the way they treated their indigenous hosts, and I have devoted much of my life to restoring those relationships.  And this apology, slipped into the middle of a DOD appropriations bill and then hardly mentioned again was an embarrassment to any serious reconciliation efforts.

I was ashamed.  For generations, my father’s people, the Navajo, and other Native American tribes have been treated like children and told by the government that we cannot participate fully as citizens of this country.  We did not completely receive the right to vote until 1948.  We were told that it was better for our children to be raised by the government, in boarding schools, than it was to be raised at home within our Native communities.  Our tribal leaders are not allowed to have full, sovereign relationships with the US government and instead have been regulated to dealing with the Bureau of Indian Affairs where we can be governed without being represented.  And now we have even been apologized to without actually being spoken to.  

This (non)apology is evidence that when it comes to the treatment of the indigenous hosts of this land by the government of the United States, there is still no respect, no dignity, no relationship, and therefore, no reconciliation.

Reconciliation is never easy, which is why it doesn't happen very often.  Reconciliation is not an event encapsulated in a moment of time.  It has a definite starting point, but no definitive ending.  Reconciliation begins with a conversation and ends with a relationship restored.

So I have decided to do whatever I can to kick-start this conversation that was attempted by our elected officials.  I appreciate their efforts, and I will do my best to pick up the ball where I feel it has been dropped.  

Ultimately, this conversation is about us: you and me, the citizens of this country, the inhabitants of this land.  It is about our histories, individually and shared.  It is about the children of the indigenous hosts of this land who have been here for centuries, even eons, seeking to live in harmony with each other and creation.  It is about the ancestors of the first Europeans who immigrated here, seeking to form a "more perfect union."  It is about the descendants of slaves who were stolen from their lands in Africa and brought here where they were literally forced, against their will, to build this country.  And it is about the generations of immigrants, both documented and un-documented, who have made the pilgrimage here, from all corners of the earth, in search of a better life.

Therefore, I have reserved the space in front of the US Capitol, for December 19, 2012, to publically read H.R. 3326, and its enclosed apology.  If you are Native American, I invite you to stand and read the 45 pages preceding this apology with me.  The weather will probably be cold, the wind will most likely be biting, and the reading will definitely be boring.  But through it, I hope to highlight the painful yet invisible history that our communities have had with the government and the citizens of the United States of America.  

If you are an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants to this country, I also invite you to join me.  I hope to have the apology portion of this bill translated into as many Native American languages as possible so that it can be read, by our guests, directly to the indigenous hosts of this land.  You will probably mispronounce many of the words and even feel a little foolish attempting to read such important sentiments in front of so many people in a completely foreign language.   But through this I hope to remind our country, our leaders and even the world, that when you sincerely apologize, this is what you do.  You bend over backwards to communicate as clearly and as humbly as possible to your intended audience.

It is my hope, that if we do this, we can move past the first and painful step of acknowledging the past and re-starting the conversation so that we can move to the next step of actually beginning to reconcile our relationships.

Until December, I intend to travel, speak, and write as much as possible in order to publicize this event and personally invite as many of our citizens, indigenous peoples, government officials, and tribal leaders as I can.  And I am starting with this article.

So please, consider yourself invited.  

You may RSVP on my website: wirelesshogan.com

I also invite you to LIKE our page on Facebook

Mark Charles