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