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:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Dilemma of the Fourth of July

The other day I was eating dinner with my wife in a restaurant located in Gallup New Mexico, a border town to the Navajo reservation. Gallup was recently named "Most Patriotic Small Town in America" in a nationwide contest. Soon after sitting down I noticed that we were seated at a table directly facing a framed poster of the Declaration of Independence.

The irony almost made me laugh.

When our server, who was also native, came to the table, I asked if I could show him something. I then stood up and pointed out that 30 lines below the famous quote "All men are created equal" the Declaration of Independence refers to Natives as "merciless Indian savages." 

The irony was that the restaurant was filled with Native American customers and employees. And there in plain sight, a poster hanging on the wall was literally calling all of us "savages." 

The server was concerned that I might be upset so after our dinner the manager of the restaurant came to our table and asked if everything was OK. I showed her the quote and assured her that I was not trying to cause problems. After more than a decade of living on the Navajo Nation, I have become used to such offenses when I travel outside of our reservation. After the manager left, I noticed that another Native couple seated near us had taken interest in our conversation. So I invited them over and showed them the same offensive line hanging over our table. They were astounded that throughout their entire education they were never told the Declaration referred to Natives in such a way.

If the poster had labeled any other group of people as "savage", or if the source of the words was anything else besides one of our country's founding documents, the restaurant in question would have long ago been sued and the parties responsible for hanging the poster most likely fired. But because the targeted group was Natives, the source was the Declaration of Independence and the responsibility for hanging the poster belonged to the restaurant’s national corporate offices; not only is the poster still hanging today, but on July 4th the entire nation will celebrate the message of this poster and the signing of this Declaration. For we have declared it a national holiday complete with fireworks, parades and speeches. 

This is the dilemma that Native ‘Americans’ face every day. The foundations of the United States of America are blatantly unjust. This land was stolen. Native peoples, Africans and many other minority communities have long been recipients of systemic racism. And the roots of it are right there for the entire world to see, printed in many of our founding documents; like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and United States Supreme Court case rulings.

We announce it. We flaunt it. We celebrate it. 

As a nation we embrace this history because we are largely ignorant of the true nature of our past and have never been held accountable for our actions. As Americans we celebrate our foundations of ‘discovery’ and cling to our narrative of ‘exceptionalism’ because we have been taught that this nation was founded by God on a principle of freedom for all. 

But the reality is that the United States of America exists because this land was colonized by Europeans who used a Doctrine of Discovery to dehumanize, steal from, enslave and even commit cultural genocide against indigenous peoples from both the "New World" and Africa.

Georges Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader from Canada, said, "Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created."

Those are wise words that get to the heart of our national problem regarding race. On days like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, the United States of America celebrates its history. But a majority of our citizens celebrate in ignorance. After traveling throughout the country and educating audiences on the Doctrine of Discovery and its influence on our nation, I would estimate that less than 3% of Americans know this history or understand its impact on the current-day situation of Native peoples.

As a nation, the United States of America does not share a common memory, and therefore struggles to have true community.

So this Fourth of July I invite every American to start their day by learning about the Doctrine of Discovery. Allowing the reality of the dehumanizing nature of this doctrine to temper your celebrations. 

You can still light your fireworks and eat your BBQ, but please remember God’s incredible mercy upon our violent and unjust nation. And at the end of the day, I humbly ask you to conclude your celebrations with the following prayer. 

"May God have mercy on the United States of America and give us the courage necessary to create a common memory."

In this video titled "The Doctrine of Discovery: A  Lecture by Mark Charles in Fresno CA" I educate about the Doctrine of Discovery and propose the idea for a national dialogue on race through a “Truth and Conciliation Commission."

You can also learn more about the Doctrine of Discovery through this video titled: What is the Doctrine of Discovery in 7 Minutes.

For more information I invite you to visit my website (, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram (user name wirelesshogan) or subscribe to the “Truth Commission” email list.

updated 20150702 @ 2345


Mark Charles said...

The other day I was eating dinner with my wife in a restaurant located in Gallup New Mexico, a border town to the Navajo Reservation. Gallup was recently named "Most Patriotic Small Town" in a nationwide contest. Soon after sitting down I noticed that we were seated at a table directly facing a framed poster of the Declaration of Independence.

The irony almost made me laugh...

Rich said...

Our nation is a work in progress for sure. The DoI was an amazing document/letter for its time. The people that signed it and wrote it were incredibly brave. But, they were men of their time. Not making excuses....just putting it out there.

Thomas J had a lot of good quality free time to write, research, re-write, reflect, etc....largely because of his slaves doing his daily chores.

Our nation today needs more honest people pointing out the turds in our American patriotic punchbowl.
I love the DoI....but I don't worship it. An amazing example of courage. What letters and messages should we be writing today?
Who is our King George?

Regarding other Am Indian news/issues.....I recently learned/read that two universities publicly owned up to their connection to the Sand Creek Massacre--DU and Northwestern? Gov Evans of CO was the common link.

Did I mention we're a work in progress?

Real Patriots speak their minds....

Unknown said...

Well-written. In the shadow of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Executive Summary here in Canada, is it not the time your country had its own TRC?

Unknown said...

Well-written. In the shadow of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Executive Summary here in Canada, is it not the time your country had its own TRC?

Unknown said...

Well-written. In the shadow of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Executive Summary here in Canada, is it not the time your country had its own TRC?

Anonymous said...

See also Frederick Douglass' speech, 'What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?'

The foundation of the United States right from its inception is a sham: racism, genocide, and slavery is what made this country-- and we still avert our eyes to this ugly truth. I cannot in good conscience be 'patriotic.'

PK9 said...

"The foundation of the United States right from its inception is a sham: racism, genocide, and slavery is what made this country--"

Find me one country that wasn't built on that stuff. Human history is full of hatred and evil. The US was founded in an attempt to be less bad than others, and we've continued to make progress as a nation.

Charlotte Coyle said...

Thanks for this Mark. Excellent essay. I included your blog in my own reflection going out this weekend.

Valeria said...

I hate to say it but pretty much every country was created by conquering native peoples and creating a larger government from what used to be tribes. And most countries had discrimination and maltreatment of those who were captured or different from the ruling class. That doesn't make it okay and we should acknowledge and learn from the mistakes of the past but don't single out the US as evil- at least it has come a long way and still and is striving towards equality and freedom for all more than much of the world.

Anonymous said...

Nothing I disagree with except emphasis. The Americas were not paradise void of evil until Europe arrived. To say that does not diminish the evil done--nor take away accountability for dealing with it. But I think we need be careful that our language does not just flip atrocity on its head where we correct the wholesale dismissing of indiginous nations by identifying the newcomers as inherently evil. I think we are better off celebrating July 4 with the Declaration of Independence on display--then taken down. The fundamental truth is not understanding people as 'savages' but the assertion that "all are equal." People of faith ought all understand the necessity of reaching beyond ourselves and taking hold of that which is truly just and right and lifting that up as our commitment--even while we are yet blind to the many ways of our lives that contradict that truth.

The ongoing atrocity is our willing apathy to NOT take the time to see, listen, learn, and change together. That is what I hear to be the heart of this piece--and call--which I absolutely support. I do so from Montgomery, Alabama, where in this one place I know Christ's people, and all citizens, struggle to come to terms with the deep and multiple tragedies covering almost 500 years--and requiring a common memory to be built even beyond that. This is a difficult project for a culture that is built significantly around everyone laying aside our past stories. I pray Christ's people can somehow embrace our faith journey of being a people, who once were not a people, but who have become a reconciled people in Christ--and live out what Mark Charles lays out for us. For we cannot be that reconciled people--living into the fullness of our faith--without doing so.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... Navajo Reservation. That would be land stolen from the Pueblo people, right?

In the context of the French & Indian War, where European troops lined up like "proper" soldiers and shot at each other, while indians attacked from the woods and scalped their enemies - they were savages.

I say this not to defend the term now, but to remind you that context makes all the difference. Native Americans were recent or current enemies to a large extent. From 1759-1768 between the war and Pontiac's Rebellion there was an unending stream of reports of "indian atrocities". Look at media from WWII and see how sympathetically we treat the Japanese and Germans.

There is much in America's history that needs redressing - but the Declaration of Independence is not on the list.

Anna Redsand said...

Thank you, Mark. I have a very difficult time celebrating these holidays, having grown up in the Navajo Nation (I have known your father since I was a child and your mother since before they knew each other). I feel very strongly that the way for us to create a common memory is to hold a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in this country. I don't know if that is something you are working toward, but I hope we can have a conversation one day. I appreciate the work you are doing.

Stephen McCormick said...

The white man will have a great number of wrongs to account for, toward peoples of many races, not just against native Americans.

But I have to point out that the text which you cite from the DOI when taken in context, is not referring to ALL Native Americans as "merciless savages", but those whom the King of England was stirring up to attack settlers on the frontiers, killing men, women, and children.

There is without question a tragic history of white abuse of Native Americans. I live a few feet off the Trail of Tears in Arkansas. I do not dispute that at all, and it makes me sick. The little solace I have is that all my ancestors came from Europe long after many of the most egregious crimes against Native Americans.

Don't dilute your grievance by quoting out of context. The text you cite does not make the case you seem to indicate.

Eloise Kuipers VanderBilt said...

I stumbled on this site today, and it uncovered many old memories. I was born in Rehoboth, New Mexico, daughter of Casey Kuipers who was a teacher and pastor in Zuni. I later married Maas VanderBilt and we were missionaries in Japan and the Philippines for 35 years. I know no other life than that of a missionary daughter, missionaary wife and mother of six children. But my view now at 85 years old is the same as it was a child. My father's work was to educate those who wanted a Christian education, and to pastor those who wanted to know more about Christ, and ours was the same in Japan. It is not possible for US to change the human heart. We can offer what we know and believe, but only God and the Holy Spirit can change the hearts of those who truly want to believe. I'm so thankful that the word "savages" never entered our mind or vocabulary when we lived in Zuni. It is still the land and the people I love.

stefan jagoe said...

All of America, government, church, industry, all of the world and all of humanity for that matter is a work in progress. And problems with so-called efforts toward reconciliation arise when, rather than realize that fact, some people, like Mr. Charles and others, choose to press the pause button and hold all of us hostage. I'm sure that every word he utters about the history of our nation is true; but nonetheless it is just that: history. And if we as a nation and as individuals cannot move on from our pasts, then we doomed indeed. Those derogatory lines about Native peoples in the DOI do not surprise me; that, sadly, is where we were at that point. But most of us have been able to extract the good from that document and continue to build what is arguably the greatest democracy the world has ever seen. I wonder if Mr. Charles has ever stopped to consider that the fact that he is allowed to flaunt his victimhood so blatantly and beat the rest of us over the head with long gone ideologies is the best evidence for this?

Bill Samuel said...

A large part of America does share a common memory. That is what you saw in the restaurant and in many places. However, it's a false memory. You can't build a good future on a false history of the past. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." In Christian terms, it opens you up to repentance and deliberately choosing a different, better way. That is what this country needs.

Robin said...

Very interesting,good job and thanks for sharing such a good blog.your article is so convincing that I never stop myself to say something about it.You’re doing a great job.Keep it up. Fourth of July 2018

Mcqueen Amber said...

America Day It is found in some history books that Vikings were the one to touch the sands of a foreign Island which is now known as North America. the Viking ship was torn apart by a furious tide and the Norsemen somehow made to the dry land and laid their feet on the ground now called America.

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