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:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Idle No More? Then we need to think big.

It has been exciting to watch this past month as indigenous peoples from around the world have rallied around the commitment of Chief Spence and the cry to be "Idle No More." It has been wonderful to read about, watch, and even participate in events around Indian Country and to hear the desire of native people, especially our youth, to be more directly involved in the governance of our lands and the ruling of our people.  

But if lasting change is to finally take place, then this cannot just be a movement. The energy behind "Idle No More" cannot end with a meeting between Chief Spence and Prime Minister Harper. And here in the US that energy cannot end with the settling of a lawsuit, or the Presidency of Barack Obama. This conversation is about so much more than just this moment in time and these particular events.

We will be idle no more when native peoples stand up, and with dignity, take our place in the national conversations to govern these lands. That place cannot be dependent upon the willingness of one of our leaders to nearly starve herself to death, nor can it be dependent upon the good will of a sitting President to temporarily invite Native leaders into the conversation. 

We will be idle no more when the foundations of our countries are affected.

Here in the United States, the Founding Fathers boldly stated in their Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," but their hearts and intentions were exposed 12 short years later when many of these same men, after winning independence from Great Britain, penned the Constitution of the United States of America. In that document, they clearly defined who "all men" actually referred to, and that definition did not include Native Americans. 

The right to vote and have representation is a fundamental American right and in the early history of our country that right was based on land ownership. At one point, Native Americans resided on a majority of the land and accounted for a majority of the population. But that began to change soon after the first European immigrants arrived. Native Americans were quickly either exterminated or moved to the boarders of society and marginalized. And that is where most of us live today. You will find pockets of Native Americans all throughout the country. And if you look hard enough you will find reservations tucked away in the corners of many states. We account for less than 2% of the population and are virtually nonexistent in the structures of power. We have been a ward of Congress and do not even have an embassy or a formal relationship with the US government. For years we were drafted and forced to fight in the wars of this country, but we did not even have the right to vote. Even after we were given the right to vote, our numbers were so small and we were so marginalized and separated that no unified voice could be heard. Reservations had been created but representation was not allowed.

I would like to propose that a new action be taken; one which I believe will level the playing field to an even greater extent. I propose that the US Constitution be amended and a virtual Native American state be created. This virtual state will function primarily as a means to give Native Americans a voice in the national structures of power that currently exist. No matter where we live, each member of every state and federally recognized tribe will, for national elections and for the US Congress and Senate, have the option to vote and be represented as a virtual Native American state. Based on the number of registered voters, 2-5 votes will be added to the Electoral College, 2-5 members will be added to the US House of Representatives, and 2 members will be added to the Senate. I believe these institutional and constitutional corrections will allow the Native American population an equal voice within the structures of power and in the representation of the United States.

For no longer will Congress or the President be able to quietly cut funding from health care and social services, which were guaranteed in the treaties that were signed. No longer will Native American issues (many of which are unique from the rest of the country) be ignored by presidential candidates. No longer will Native Americans be forced to be a ward of Congress and at the mercy of the state governments and the Department of the Interior. Instead, presidential candidates will be forced to campaign directly to us, and we will be a permanent part of the Senate and the House of Representatives. We will have our own voice in the legislative agenda of this country and in the representation of our lands and our people.

And then we can say that we truly are "Idle No More."

Mark Charles

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