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:

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:

This event will also be streamed LIVE at 11 AM EST on Dec. 19, 2012 on my Wirelesshogan YouTube Channel:

Or join our Facebook Page:

You can also contact me directly at:

Mark Charles

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


Anonymous said...

Hi Mark. I love your blog. I love this event. I am French Cree from Canada. My grandmother lived on an Onondaga Reserve in Syracuse/Redfield, NY. Her name was Marie LeBlanc. I am praying for this event. I would like to just say that as a "grandmother" I never stayed locked in my upstairs room. I ventured out into the house. I ended up in the kitchen cooking for white folks. I think it is time for Native Americans to venture out of this room of fear and pain. Too many sit in their rooms depressed and fearful. I get out among white folks. This has made me happy. I never was one for sitting around. I been squeezed too but I got out there and yes, competed, for my share of the resources, the land, the water, etcetera. I would never let anyone squeeze me out of my entire space. I have done well for myself. I have many white relatives. I love them all. I love you too. Liz Levesque+

Anonymous said...

I've never had the opportunity (that I can remember) to apologize to a Native person, in person. But it's something that hangs heavy on my heart. Please accept my apologies for all the atrocities, the lying, the thieving, the dishonesty, the cruelty, the dishonoring and besmirching, the defiling, and the dehumanizing that my ancestors committed, and for the failure to rectify these wrongs committed by my people, the continued racism/descrimination and mistreatment that continues today.

Until we truly mend the wrongs we have committed against native peoples, and all other peoples of color - the US will never truly be a United nation.

I am ashamed that it is you having to read out this apology when it should be coming from our President and other leaders of our communities. Thank you for your message and courage - I hope this contributes to better days to come for you and your people and all Native peoples.


Colleen H-B

Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

As a religious Jew, I am appalled at the way this country has treated the people who were here first. I cannot help but be grateful to the country that gave my family so much when we fled our own oppression in Europe, but I also know that much of he heritage of freedom this country has comes out of the political traditions of Eastern Native American nations.
I have for many years been interested, and studied, the history of the native America, and I offer my own apology - and thanks- to those who were here before I.

Unknown said...

I want my country to take a deep, moral inventory of our roots as a nation mired in oppression, slavery, and genocide. I want my government to apologize, then facilitate and support locally lead efforts to radically transform our materialist society into one that sees poverty as evidence of a crime of neglect on the part of society - something that we must take responsibility for. I would like for us to take the same level of responsibility for what we have done and continue to do to the environment. The slavery of Africans, the genocide of Native Americans, the continued oppression of the poor, is all tied into our relationship or lack of relationship with our natural environment. Damn right, we need to apologize. But, like I tell my kids, "Don't think you can get out of your responsibility by just saying you're sorry. But, you better apologize. That's how we start to make things right."

Good luck today. If you're ever in Fort Defiance, look us up. It would be good to meet you.
(We are non-Navajo. My wife is a nurse at the hospital)

Paul Warren

Anonymous said...

Great job, Mark! Keep up the good work. Glad you found the "apology" buried in the legislation; at least it's something to begin with. Something will come of it, just keep at it. This is an issue that will only gather more momentum over time.

Anonymous said...

Dear Indigenous People of the Americas,
It is with no pride that I say my ancestors were Spaniards and Christians. I am very sorry for what they did in the name of a “culture” that was barbaric and in the name of a God who would not have approved of their ungodly actions. I have always looked at our country’s treatment of your people with remorse and regret. We have the audacity to speak these days of “illegal aliens” but we did not migrate to your great land and possess it legally. From many accounts of the earliest Europeans into the Americas, we read that your people greeted “explorers” like Henry Hudson, Columbus, and Admiral Cook with kindness. In return they destroyed your culture, stole your resources, killed and tortured your people and more atrocities that can fit in this space. I ask your people’s forgiveness and our God’s too Sincerely Al.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see you calling attention to "the people" who have much to share culturally with the rest of us. My son was born at Rehobeth and we lived at "Shush Bito" when I worked at Wingate elementary.