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, 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:

I also invite you to LIKE our page on Facebook

Mark Charles