Truth Be Told

Signed copies of the book I co-authored with Soong-Chan Rah, "Unsettling Truths - The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery" are available from my website:

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Native response to Mitt Romney's promise to "never apologize for the United States of America"

A few weeks ago Mitt Romney released a campaign video in which he boldly stated that, as President, he would "never apologize for the United States of America."  I would like to ask him to clarify those remarks for the nearly 4 million Native Americans citizens of this country.

A few years ago, the Canadian Prime Minister issued a public apology to the First Nations people of Canada.  That apology stemmed from the injustice of residential schools that the First Nations people suffered at the hand of the European immigrants who entered their land and aggressively laid claim to it.  This apology did not solve the problems between Canada's immigrant population and the indigenous peoples of that land.  Nor was this apology in any way an ending point.  But it was a necessary and important step to take. 

Reconciliation is a journey, a process, a rebuilding of trust.  It is not accomplished in a single action, nor does it necessarily have a clearly defined ending point.  Reconciliation is a journey to restore a relationship, and apologizing is an essential part of that journey.

I am 41 years old, and I have been married for 13 years with 3 children. One of the reasons my marriage is still healthy and my children still love me is because I learned a long time ago of the indispensible value of a sincere and well-timed apology. 

No one is perfect.  We all, at one point or another, act selfishly, arrogantly, ignorantly and even maliciously.  It is a part of being human.  The strongest people I have known and the most effective leaders I have followed are those who honestly acknowledge this. 

I have found that the more intimate the relationship or the more elevated the role of leadership, the more necessary the ability to apologize becomes.  In other words, you may be able to maintain a casual acquaintance with a co-worker without apologizing, but if your acquaintance becomes your friend and over time your friend becomes your spouse, then I am quite certain that the opportunity and the need to apologize in that relationship will present itself time and time again. 

By the same token, you may be able to lead a small three-member committee to raise funds for a local charity and complete your term without having to apologize to your fellow committee members for unkind words or insensitive actions.  But let’s say that same committee is successful and continues year after year, and the organization becomes increasingly dependent upon the funds you are raising. The pressure mounts and the amount of funds raised grows exponentially.  Then, again, the opportunity and need to apologize to the members on the committee, for thoughtless words spoken in haste or insensitive actions due to the growing pressure, will present itself time and time again.

The bio on Mitt Romney’s campaign website communicates that over the past 42 years he has raised a family, maintained a healthy marriage and built and led successful business ventures.  With all of that experience building and maintaining those multitudes of relationships, I am willing to bet that if he were completely honest he could give a powerful exhortation on the indispensible value of a sincere and well-timed apology. 

The office of the President is the most powerful, public and complex office in our land.  It requires the holder to build, maintain, lead and reconcile relationships throughout our country and the world.  Therefore, it baffles me that a top-tier candidate for this office would make such a seemingly shortsighted and arrogant statement that he will "never apologize for the United States of America." 

Those words may score political points during a partisan debate, but they are not the words of a serious national candidate who is seeking to be a leader on the global stage.

I love our country and am proud to be an American.  But I also come from the Native American community which knows first-hand that the USA is not perfect.  In our short history with the United States, we have endured forced assimilation, boarding schools, stolen land, kidnapped children, relocation and, for some tribes, genocide.  Yet, there are still a great number of us who are willing to work through that dark history and strive to live proud and productive lives as citizens of this country.  But we, and our communities, are still hurting.  We crave reconciliation and are longing to restore this important relationship that has been broken by our country.  And one would expect that at some point in the healing process, an apology would be given.  Who better to deliver it than the democratically elected President of these United States?

So if the need to apologize for the USA can be found with the first people that this young country ever encountered, how can we expect to traverse the rest of our history, as well as the plethora of global relationships without encountering that need again?  

Mitt Romney is a smart, well-educated man.  He is campaigning to competent people.  So I ask him and the rest of the 2012 Presidential candidates: Please do not insult our intelligence or your own, by making such arrogant and short-sighted statements like “I will never apologize for the United States of America.”
As I have observed and participated in the leadership process, I have concluded two things: 
First, our world is run through relationships. 
Second, everyone is human.  We are all learning and to some extent just making it up as we go along.  Crisis tends to be conveyed when leaders, media, or institutions portray themselves or others as “experts” and then act surprised or even shocked when they fail.  
To err is human and the ability to give a sincere and well-timed apology is essential.  Please do not let anyone lead you to believe otherwise.
Mark Charles (Navajo)

This article was also published on on Dec. 19, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Natural Disasters

What exactly is a natural disaster?

The intersection of 'the average' and 'the extraordinary’.

I was thinking the other day about our society’s fascination with polls and numbers. We love to use numbers and averages to forecast and predict things like public opinion and natural events. I think the problem with this practice is that it conditions us to expect events and people to be average.
And I frequently see the results of this conditioning when I observe our society’s expectations and attitudes towards the weather.

Often, we expect, forecast and plan for averages.  And then we act surprised or even shocked when conditions are extraordinary.

I think we forget that the Creator of our world is anything but average. He takes pride in the extraordinary, whether that be extraordinary weather to display his power or extraordinary people to honor and glorify his name.

In my experience, the longer I follow Jesus and the longer I live in his creation, the more conditioned I have become to expect the extraordinary.

It seems that nearly every week we hear about a powerful weather related event occurring somewhere in our world.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, torrential rains, heavy snow falls, drought and soaring or freezing temperatures.  This happens with such frequency that we even have adopted terms into our language to refer to such events:  "Natural disasters", "Acts of God" and "Mother Nature's fury" just to name a few. 

Wikipedia defines a natural disaster as "the effect of a natural hazard (e.g., flood, tornado, hurricane, volcanic eruption, earthquake, heat wave, or landslide). It leads to financial, environmental or human losses."

Since moving to the Navajo reservation over 7 years ago, I have had to learn to adapt to living in an environment where my daily schedule and, at times, even my well being is affected by the weather (see my article, 'Paved Roads’, to read more of my reflections on this).  This has challenged me to intentionally adopt a more humble attitude regarding weather, which is to not complain about it.  I understand that I live in the high desert, so I do not complain about the arid conditions.  And because our land is perpetually dry, I intentionally try to be thankful for the moisture we receive, regardless of when it comes or what form it comes in.

One of the more recent weather related events that we have heard about on a national level was the strong Santa Ana winds that blew through Southern California a few weeks ago.  I went to college in Southern California and have many family and friends who live there, so I tend to pay close attention to the news coming from that region.  One of the biggest problems reported from the recent Santa Ana winds was the number of large trees that fell down, blocking roads, crushing houses and cars and knocking down power lines.

I did some reading about these winds and came across this quote in a story from the LA times:
"L.A. trees don't have deep roots. The urban forest is artificial and is primarily watered by lawn sprinklers," Patzert said. "So what keeps our urban forest alive is people watering their lawns, which are not natural, so you don't have deep root systems. So our trees are very vulnerable to Santa Ana events."

This same article also referred to these strong Santa Ana winds (in some places up to 100 MPH) as a once in a decade type of event.

I also saw and heard of several interviews with longtime residents of Southern California who stated that they had NEVER seen winds like these in that region before.  (Personally, I think it would be interesting to ask some of the Native American tribes indigenous to those lands about the frequency and history of such winds, but that thought is for another blog post.)  :-)

I was in the Netherlands when Hurricane Katrina hit the Southern coast of the United States back in the fall of 2005.  A few days prior to that event my family and I were touring some of the dykes there: huge, massive structures holding back the sea and very impressive to look at. I remember asking my friends, who lived in that country, how it felt to reside in a place where, if nature just corrected itself and did what it was supposed to do, a good portion of the country would be destroyed and underwater? Not necessarily a questions one wants to think about regarding their 'home' on a regular basis.

But then it was eerie to watch that fear become realized when Katrina hit the United States a couple days later.

I think that as our world grows more populous and our understanding of science becomes more advanced, our efforts to control and manipulate our environments in unnatural ways will become more pronounced. Whether that is the planting urban forests, farming in the desert, building cities where there is no water or constructing our civilizations beneath levees and dykes built to hold back the seas. But I think over time these unnatural manipulations, no matter how well constructed, will be exposed as vulnerable and inferior to the strength and beauty of creation.  And because of our fascination with 'the average,' their existence will be threatened, not just by cataclysmic weather events, but even by unusual or infrequent weather events.

So what am I saying?

To be honest, I'm not too sure.

Do we stop planting and watering tress in Los Angeles? Of course not.

Do we move the entire population of municipalities such as Phoenix AZ, Las Vegas NV and New 
Orleans LA to environments more conducive to human life?  No, I don't think so.

I guess I just want us, as people, to take a more humble attitude and not act so surprised or shocked when our 'average' environmental manipulations meet the Creator’s extraordinary weather.
I don't want us to be too quick to blame God or claim to be victims of 'natural disasters' or 'Mother Nature’s fury' when technically the problem is we are living in ways or in places that are not natural habitats for our existence. I'm not saying we don't call these events disasters, for when there is wide-spread human suffering, pain or loss of life that is a disaster.

I'm just saying that I want our society to be humble enough to accept some of the blame and responsibility ourselves when this damage and loss occurs.

I want us to have a deep humility and understanding that nature is NOT average, it is extraordinary.

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

Now that the NBA lockout is officially over: A petition to NBA Owners and Players to regain the support of their fans.

As a fan of the game of basketball, I am glad that the NBA owners and players have finally come to an agreement over how to split the nearly 4 billion dollars of basketball related income that is generated by their league each year. It has disturbed me that at a time when much of the world is in severe economic crisis, millionaires and billionaires have had such a difficult time coming to an agreement over how to share the enormous amount of revenue that is generated from the playing of a game. I have heard voices and read stories expressing concern over the inconvenience and even pain that this disagreement has caused for the fans and the livelihood of the employees that support this league. I have also heard both sides express a thankfulness that the lockout is over and they can now get back to the business of playing basketball and regaining the trust of their fans. It is on that note that I would like to offer a suggestion as to how they can go about doing that.

I propose that for the first home game played by each NBA team, the owners and players pledge to donate all basketball related income and contracted salary. These funds will be pooled to be divided equally in 2 ways.

1. Provide a lump sum (bonus) payment to every hourly employee who lost their job, hours or income due to the lock-out.
2. Use the funds to evenly decrease the tickets price for all remaining regular season home games for each team.

I am thankful that the lock-out is over and I hope the NBA owners and players will remember what a privilege it is to be able to earn such a lucrative living from the sport they love. I also hope they remember that without their fans and the hourly employees supporting their league, none of this would be possible. And so I offer this simple suggestion as to how they best can go about saying "Thank You."

If you agree with my suggestion, I invite you to sign my petition at A petition to NBA Owners and Players to regain the support of their fans.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Taking the 51st virtual Native American state conversation to Iowa, New Hampshire and the rest of the country.

Ya'at'eeh.  I hope to write a more polished announcement sometime in the next few days, but I wanted to get something published on my blog as soon as possible..

As you are probably aware, I have been doing some speaking and writing on an amendment to the US Constitution that I am proposing to create a 51st virtual Native American state. I feel that this is a very important dialogue for our country to have, not only to give disenfranchised Native American communities a stronger and more unified voice in national elections, but also to continue the process of reconciling and healing our country's broken relationships with the indigenous peoples of this land.

Over the next 12 months, throughout the Primary and Caucus season, the Conventions and then the General election our country will be engaging in numerous dialogues with our current and future leaders and we will be thinking about things such as voting districts and the electoral college. I think this environment will provide an excellent opportunity to engage a national dialogue on the 51st virtual Native American state proposal. My proposal speaks directly to the order of the primaries and caucuses, making this a very natural springboard. So I, and the small but extremely dedicated team of people who have been helping me, have decided to give as much energy, effort and resources as possible to initiate this conversation on a national level.

Beginning with the caucuses in Iowa on January 3 and the primary in New Hampshire on January 10, I am planning to travel to several key states throughout the primary season to hold lectures, town hall meetings and other public (and hopefully media) events to engage Native American communities, colleges and the general public with this proposal. If you are interested in supporting us in any way throughout this process, you can start by clicking LIKE on the 51st virtual Native American state Facebook page.

I have never attempted to engage in such a large and public conversation before and and sure I will make many, many mistakes along the way. But throughout this entire process I will covet your prayers, your encouragement and your support.

ahe'hee'. (Thank you)

Mark Charles

Monday, November 14, 2011

Language of Adoption

"Shi'masoni." That is how I addressed her as I leaned over to place my necklace around her neck. "My maternal grandmother."

When I left home for the Christian Community Development Association National Conference (CCDA - an association of Christian community developers who share similar values for Relocation, Reconciliation and Redistribution), I was not expecting to gain a grandmother. But God had other plans, and I think that, just maybe, the church is a little more reconciled because of it.

A year ago, at the previous CCDA conference, I had been invited to be a part of a panel of young leaders for a plenary session. On this panel, I had an opportunity to share with the entire conference some of my thoughts and reflections on issues of reconciliation between the broader country and Native North American communities. I shared that being Native American and living in this country feels like our peoples are an old grandmother who owns 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 even 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 is that almost 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."

This year, in response to that sharing, CCDA founding member Wayne Gordon (Coach) explained that when he and his wife are invited into someone’s house, they frequently bring a gift to their host, and so he wanted to give gifts to Richard Twiss and me as unofficial representatives of our communities. Richard is Lakota/Sioux and I am Dine/Navajo. We both recently accepted invitations to join the CCDA Board of Directors, in part to help expand the association’s understanding of Native North American issues.

When I was told about Coach’s gift earlier in the day, I was honored by the idea but did not feel right accepting a gift without giving something in return. I had brought along a few CDs of one of our Navajo elders singing the scriptures in a contextualized and traditional way. I frequently give these CDs as gifts, but giving a CD alone, and in front of so many people did not feel like enough. Unfortunately, I did not have much else of significance along with me. I deeply appreciate the relationships I am building within the CCDA and wanted to give a gift that reflected the value I hold for those relationships.

The only other possible gift I could think of was my turquoise necklace. Navajo people are known throughout the world for our turquoise and silver jewelry, and a few years ago I had received a beautiful turquoise necklace from one of my relatives. I am very proud of this necklace and regularly wear it as a part of my regalia. Giving it away would be significant and it would deepen the meaning of this exchange for me. But the idea of giving away something so valuable and personal to me took a little getting used to. But the more I thought about it, the better I felt about it.

Giving the necklace as a gift felt good and appropriate, but something was still missing.
Amasoni (Grandmother)

Navajo culture is matrilineal. Our identities come from our mother's mother. It is the maternal grandmother who owns the property and makes the decisions for the family. The sheep belong to her. The hogan belongs to her. If you want to have a feast, you need her permission. One of the most enduring images I have in my mind is that of a very elderly grandmother walking out to the corral during butchering time. She moves slowly and even somewhat unevenly in her old age, but she also carries a huge knife. When she arrives she kneels down next to the sheep that her children and grandchildren have roped and tied up. And then quickly, expertly and forcefully she cuts the neck of the sheep and the preparations for the feast began.

Because of the role of the Grandmother in Navajo culture, whenever I want to honor a family or intentionally build new relationships within a community, I always try to get to know the grandmothers.

Vera Mae Perkins is the wife of the legendary John Perkins. John is a nationally known civil rights leader, Christian teacher and author. He is one of the founders of the CCDA and is well known and loved by its many members. Vera Mae is also loved and honored, but not such an upfront and public figure. She is John's loving and supportive partner who, a few years ago, suffered a stroke. She has since lost much of her mobility as well as her eye sight. But every year she still attends the CCDA conference and, in her wheel chair, sits in the front row at the plenary sessions.

I now knew to whom I would give my necklace. It would have to go to Vera Mae. She was the Grandmother in the room. And giving it to her would express the deep gratitude I felt towards the relationships I was building in the CCDA.

But just giving the necklace to a Grandmother still did not feel like enough.
Shi'masoni (My Grandmother)

Last winter I attended a conference in New Zealand that was hosted by the Maori, the indigenous people of that island. Throughout this conference, we were literally welcomed like family as they shared their culture, language, music, traditions and food with us. They even used the language of family, often referring to us as brother, sister, auntie, uncle, etc. It was an incredible experience.

Towards the end of the two-week conference, I had an opportunity to publically express my gratitude to the Maori people for their hospitality. I shared with them my analogy of the Grandmother in the house and confessed that I did not know how the grandmother was supposed to respond but after experiencing their unconditional and open armed welcome, I now knew. The grandmother needed to respond with language of adoption when the guests in her house came upstairs to thank her.

By using language of adoption the grandmother would be able to establish her role as the host of the house, but also communicate that her guests were welcome and accepted. A relationship with boundaries, protocol and defined roles could be started.

When Coach invited Richard and me up front during the evening plenary session, I was deeply moved that he wanted to publically recognize us as his hosts and I gratefully received his gift. The conference also seemed to appreciate the significance of his gesture and applauded their approval. Richard and I each then returned the favor and presented some gifts to Coach and the CCDA. Again, it was a significant moment and people applauded their approval.

But God was not finished.

He had been prompting my heart all afternoon, so I kept the microphone and told people that I had another gift that I wanted to give. I went on to explain about the matrilineal aspects of Navajo culture and about the importance of our grandmothers as well as the significance of my necklace. I then told them that I wanted to honor Vera Mae as grandmother and give my necklace to her. So I removed it from my neck, walked off the stage and found her sitting in the first row. I hung the necklace around her neck, gave her a big hug and called her "shi'masoni." "My maternal grandmother."

I do not know how everyone responded because I was fully in the moment, appreciating my time with Vera Mae. But for the remainder of the conference I was approached by people expressing a deep gratitude for what had taken place. And I even heard various reports of the tears that flowed freely over the beauty of the event.

I was not trying to steal the spotlight from Coach. Nor was I attempting to overshadow his gift. Instead, I was using his humility and generosity to step into the role that his gift was acknowledging in me, the role of the host.

Over the years, many key people within the CCDA had reached out to me. John Liotti shared a cup of coffee with me in the Bay Area. Dave Clark met me in the Chicago airport to introduce himself and get to know me. Noel Castellanos traveled to the Southwest and spent some time with me and my family in our house on the Navajo Reservation. And John Perkins shared his breakfast table with me at a hotel in St. Louis. From day one, I had been intentionally invited into the circle of relationships known as the CCDA. And now, on this night, I was publicly thanked and acknowledged as one of the host people of this land.

I was being given the opportunity to define my role within this association, and for me, culturally, that had to go through Vera Mae. She could not just be known to me as John Perkins's wife. Nor was it enough just to acknowledge her as a grandmother. She had to become my grandmother. And so I used the language of adoption. As I leaned over and hung my necklace around her neck, I called her shi'masoni', my maternal grandmother.

And now that protocol has been followed and our roles are better defined, I feel excited to continue this journey of reconciliation.

(This article was originally published on my page at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lessons from a Donkey

Noise. It surrounds us every day: car horns honking, sirens wailing, people talking, children crying, dogs barking, phones ringing, televisions blaring, donkeys braying, and the list goes on and on. Even when things seem to quiet down, after a few minutes our ears become attuned to the hum of electricity, the dull sound of traffic in the distance, the buzz of an airplane flying overhead, the elevator music playing in the background or even the constant ticking of a clock.

And then there is the silent noise that bombards us on a daily basis. Our eyes are strangely drawn to the billboards we pass on the city streets. We cannot help but read the sensational tabloid headlines stacked by the grocery store checkout lines. And then of course there are the text messages, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts that constantly stream through our phones and computers and into our lives. Everywhere we turn someone or something is blaring noise and demanding our attention.

Since moving to the Navajo Reservation nearly seven years ago my mind has been filled with many thoughts and my heart has been burdened with many questions: What does it look like to be racially reconciled within the United States of America? What does it mean for the Christian Church to be multi-ethnic and diverse when the underlying value for our country is assimilation? How can we raise up and empower Native American leaders for business, government and churches when the road to college degrees and ordination requires students to leave the reservation and assimilate to the Western culture, language and educational system? What can it look like for the indigenous hosts of this land to take their place in national debates on issues like Immigration Reform? How can the Native American community have a voice in the Electoral College?

I do not want to claim to be an authority on any of these questions. But I also want to acknowledge that I have spent much time praying, reflecting, struggling and conversing over each of them, as well as many others that I did not mention, and I would like very much to join the conversation where it is present and initiate dialogue where there is none.

But how is one heard? How does someone with a message rise above the noise to captivate the public’s attention and solicit their response? What does it look like to engage our churches, denominations and even our government in this type of public discourse?

There are many examples that I could follow that many people, organizations and institutions have employed in an effort to rise above the noise and be heard. I could seek out controversial stories, graphic images or misleading headlines like so many talk shows and news agencies do. Or I could use images of sex and violence, promises of wealth or guarantees of happiness like so many advertisers do. Or I could try and make my message ever present by injecting it into every possible context. Like a television or radio playing quietly in the background -- always on, yet never obtrusive -- my message would take on the subtle visibility of a well executed product campaign.

Each of these methods has been used very effectively, but, in the end, they are all adding to the same problem that each is trying rise above. I would also add that the goal of most of these methods is not to cause us to think, reflect or even converse. Instead the goal is to get us to react, jump to a conclusion, or even more simplistically, make a purchase.

In the mornings my daughter and I wake up early and walk to the top of a hill near us in order to watch the sun rise. As we walk up the hill we talk together but in the background we can often hear birds singing, dogs barking and occasionally cars passing by. But the most distinct and yet infrequent noise that we hear is that of a donkey braying. We don’t hear it every day, or even every week. It is infrequent and unpredictable, yet surprisingly consistent. But every morning we listen for it and each time we hear it my daughter exclaims, “Daddy! I hear my favorite donkey!!!”

If you have ever heard a donkey’s bray you know that it can be an extremely loud sound that quickly becomes annoying. It usually goes on for several seconds and sounds about as pleasant as an untrained performer with laryngitis who is attempting to sing opera. Yet as my daughter and I watch the sunrise we pray and frequently her prayer includes the words, “...and Jesus I thank you that I can hear my favorite donkey.”

My daughter knows this donkey. She listens for his bray, and she is filled with joy every time she hears it. Now if we owned a herd of donkeys and every morning they sounded as loudly as this one donkey, then I do not think my daughter would receive his braying with such glee. Rather she might pray that Jesus would shut those donkeys up so she could get some sleep. But the infrequent and yet consistent braying of this single donkey is welcomed by our entire family, and every time we hear it we listen and even celebrate.

For some time now, I have been considering how I can engage a larger audience with the topics that I listed above and which the Creator has placed on my heart. Several years ago I started a blog, but my posts were extremely infrequent and resembled a collection of published articles more than a blog. I was not engaging in a conversation as much as I was publishing my finished thoughts. So then a few years ago I opened a Facebook account, and I probably update my status between 2 and 5 times a day! I frequently have people comment on or ‘LIKE’ my status updates, but I assume that there are just as many of my ‘friends’ who have hidden, or at least learned to tune out my constant blabber about Starbucks coffee, Chipotle burritos, sunrises and even my own children.

Neither of those attempts to communicate more broadly has come close to satisfying my desire to engage my community, our churches, the country and our leaders in a constructive dialogue. So I am going to try once again. But this time I think I will pay attention to some of the lessons that can be learned from this donkey that my daughter loves so much.

First, I want to have a distinct, clear and recognizable voice. As far as I can tell, there is only one donkey residing on our hill while there are many dogs, cows, cats and birds. One reason the braying is so welcomed is because it is different and not easily mistaken for the sounds from the other animals that we hear all of the time.

Second, I want to have a short and understandable message. The donkey does not make a beautiful sound and if it were to go on for longer than a few seconds it would very quickly become irritating. But I have learned to trust that the brays will be short and therefore welcome them as I am reminded that our hill is larger and more diverse than what I see on a daily basis.

Third, when I do speak (or write) I want to be loud enough to be heard, even from a distance. My daughter rarely sees this donkey that she loves so much. The primary reason she know he exists is because his bray breaks through the serene silence that typically accompanies the sunrises that we watch. Because he is far off, he is not as loud as the cars that occasionally drive in front of us or the dogs that sometimes bark at us, and we do need to cease our talking in order to hear him. But when we do, his voice is easily heard.

It is my hope, that if I do these three things well, then I will not need to entice people to listen by exploiting controversial topics, flashing violent images or making empty promises. Instead I want keep the conversation going and my audience interested, engaged and hungry for more by the infrequent, yet surprisingly consistent, sound of my voice. I aspire to be like this donkey, who, at least for my daughter, has redefined the loud, annoying and obnoxious noise of his bray into a sweet, familiar and cherished sound.
(A version of this blog post was also published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Immigration Reform: Perspectives from Native America

One of the buzz phrases I have heard in many social justice circles regarding the issue of immigration reform is “Comprehensive and Just Immigration Reform”. But I have taken a slight twist on that idea and have used it to advocate for our Native American communities by pointing out that “immigration reform will be neither comprehensive nor just unless it includes the voices and perspectives of the Native American peoples.

Right now I am not even advocating for any specific policy or stance. Instead I am merely observing that the voices of Native American are largely absent from this conversation. And so I am trying to speak to 2 separate audiences.

To our Native American communities I want to communicate that this is an important and historic dialogue for our country and our land and that we, as indigenous peoples, can offer a unique and invaluable perspective. We are the original inhabitants of this land and for the first time in centuries we have an opportunity to shape the dialogue regarding who should and should not be allowed to be here. So I want to encourage our people to step up and take our place in this conversation.

And to non-Native communities I am trying to point out the irony of trying to reform a policy on immigration without the indigenous inhabitants of the land participating in the conversation. I have witnessed and am convicted that merely our presence at the table where immigration reform is being discussed fundamentally effects and alters the conversation. This is because our Native American community is a visual reminder of our country’s unjust history regarding immigration policy, and that is even before we begin speaking and offering our distinct perspectives on the land and our relationship to it. And so I want our country and our leaders to pause, and notice that the Native American community is not actively a part of this conversation and then to intentionally invite us to the table.

I do not believe that either community can resolve this issue alone. And even together we are not going to get it perfect. But both voices are necessary if we want this reform to be more comprehensive and more just than our current policy is now.

I am trying to create some meaningful space where our Native American communities can begin to hone and articulate our thoughts and opinions on immigration reform so I started a Facebook Page regarding this topic.

Gallup Herald:
Here is an article by the Gallup Herald, a local weekly news publication. They interviewed me and published an article regarding a Native American Perspective on Immigration Reform.

This was one of the first events I spoke at where I advocated for the inclusion of the Native American community in the national dialogue on Immigration Reform.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Guests in a foreign land

Ya'at'eeh. Last week I had the privilege of attending the World Christian Gathering on Indigenous Peoples. This conference is held every 2-3 years in the land of the indigenous tribe or group that is hosting the gathering. This year we were in New Zealand as the guests of the Maori people. On Sunday, the first day of the conference, we gathered on a Marae, a traditional political and communal gathering and meeting place, and were officially welcomed by the king of the Maori. Our entire conference had a respectful procession into the outdoor court where the king was seated. After we were all in place, some of the Maori women greeted us with a song and then one of the Maori elders stood up and gave a speech welcoming us and honoring God, as well as the Maori elders, families and generations that had come before. Then another song was sung. Next, one of our leaders stood up and gave a speech thanking the Maori for receiving us and bringing greetings from our peoples and our lands. That speech was also followed by one of the songs of the tribes represented in our conference. Then another Maori leader stood up and gave another speech followed by another song. This volley of speeches and songs continued for a couple of hours and eventually concluded with our group laying out a gift for the king and his people. After our gift was accepted we lined up and were personally greeted and welcomed by the king and other Maori leaders and elders and then were ushered into a large hall and served a wonderful meal.

At each of the previous gatherings that I have attended, the WCGIP has followed a similar protocol with the leaders and elders of those lands (Hawaii, Sweden and Israel). This year I not only had the opportunity to observe and be welcomed through this process, but I also had the privilege to participate and give one of the speeches to the Maori king and his people.

This event did not include a time of worship and it all took place even before we had registered for the conference and had properly greeted each other. But the more I experience and reflect on this type of protocol, the more I understand how this is a part and even some of the foundation of our worship.

This protocol is a very clear reminder to me of who I am in these foreign lands. A guest. And having that mentality with the people of the lands where I have come to worship, is a wonderful reminder of who I am before our creator. His creation.

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