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, July 3, 2016

The Declaration of Independence. It's not what you think.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."

Most Americans, and probably a good number of global citizens, can quote the above section of the Declaration of Independence.  But I doubt many can recall much of what comes after that or the historical context from which it was written.

In 1763, King George of England issued the Proclamation of 1763. In this proclamation, he drew a line down the Appalachian Mountains and essentially told the colonies that they no longer had the right of discovery of the empty (Indian) lands west of the Appalachia. That right was now reserved solely for the crown. This upset the colonists, so a few years later they wrote a letter of protest. In their letter, they accused the king of "raising the conditions of new appropriations of land." They went on in their letter to declare that "he (the King) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages..."

They signed their letter July 4, 1776.

Yes, believe it or not, a mere 30 lines beneath the statement "All men are created equal," the Declaration of Independence refers to natives as "merciless Indian Savages." Making it abundantly clear that the only reason the founding fathers used the inclusive language "all men" is because they had a very narrow definition of who was and who was not human.

According to the Declaration of Independence, natives are dehumanized as savages who stood in the way of westward expansion.

And our country has no idea what to do with that.

Last year, about this time, the United States was in the midst of a national dialogue regarding the Confederate Flag. It was being called out as the symbol of racism and bigotry that it is. And on June 27, 2015, the issue came to a head when Bree Newsome climbed the 30-foot flagpole and took down the Confederate Flag that flew over the South Carolina State Capitol. She was immediately arrested, but hailed on social media as a national hero. Funds were collected to pay her legal fees. National news organizations clamored for her interview. And on July 9th, the South Carolina state legislators passed a bill to remove the Confederate flag from flying over their capitol.

Confederate Flag
I watched these events with particular interest. It was good that our nation was having this dialogue and grappling with our racist past. It was good that public opinion was turning and there was some agreement that the Confederate Flag, while undeniably a part of US history, was not an acceptable symbol for our nation or our states to use.

But, as a native man, I was both amused and disappointed, as right in the middle of these historic events our entire country took the day off, cranked up their barbeque grills, gathered with family and friends, and celebrated another symbol of racism and bigotry from our colonial past.

The Declaration of Independence.

For the past 200 years, the United States has struggled with its history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, sexism, internment camps, immigration reform, and mass incarceration. And while we still have a long way to go, we have made some progress. Our first African American President is completing his second term in office. A female candidate for President is now the presumptive nominee of a major political party. The Confederate flag is no longer being flown over the South Carolina state capitol.

But there is one part of our history that we have no idea what to do with.

Our colonialism.

The United States of America is a colonial nation. The "new world" was not discovered by Europeans in 1492. This continent had been inhabited by millions of people for centuries, even millennia. And you cannot discover lands that are already occupied. That action is better known as conquering, stealing or colonizing. The fact that history books refer to what Columbus did as discovery reveals our racial bias. The 'manifest destiny' of the United States of America was achieved through a violent history of systematic ethnic cleansing (Indian Removal Act of 1830, Trail of Tears, the Long Walk, massacre at Sand Creek, Indian Boarding schools the massacre at Wounded Knee, etc., etc., etc.).  The notion that America was discovered, is a racist colonial concept that assumes the dehumanization of indigenous peoples.

And the Declaration of Independence both codifies that racial bias and justifies the violent history that resulted.

Photo of Mark Charles by Kris J Eden
But as the nation has grown more diverse and somewhat more tolerant, instead of dealing with our racist foundations, our country just stopped teaching its history or reading its founding documents in their entirety. In the past 5 years, I have traveled the country and spoken to thousands of people about the Doctrine of Discovery and its dehumanizing influence on the foundations of our nations, including the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the United States Supreme Court. Over these years, I have been told by an embarrassingly large percentage of US citizens that they had no idea the Declaration of Independence referred to natives as "savages."

It is this ignorance that allowed the hypocritical events of 2015 to take place. At the end of June and in early July, we celebrated the removal of the Confederate Flag because of the racism and bigotry it represented. But in the middle of those events, we paused and held a national party, complete with parades, concerts, and fireworks as we commemorated our violent colonial past and the dehumanizing Declaration of Independence that justified it.

Americans love the Fourth of July. It celebrates one of the documents that we, and even much of the globe, believe makes our nation exceptional.  The Declaration of Independence has been lauded by historic figures and global icons such as Fredrick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Pope Francis as a foundation of equality and human rights.

But as a native man I would encourage each of them, as well as every citizen of our country and the rest of the world, to please, read the entire document.  It’s not what you think.

- Mark Charles (Navajo)


Mark Charles said...

But there is one part of our history that we have no idea what to do with.

Our colonialism.

Mark Charles said...

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."

Most Americans, and probably a good number of global citizens, can quote the above section of the Declaration of Independence. But I doubt many can recall much of what comes after that or the historical context from which it was written.

Kara C said... for writing about this. You are right that we need to know!

Bunky59 said...

I have read the declaration a few times, and no, the word savage did not impress me, for that alone I am see when most of us read something we see mostly what we want to see. We, the people were/are blinded to the pain we caused, blinded by the very virtues now so impressed upon us..Greed,Selfishness,and the fuck you attitude being broadcast across the land, we now live in a me first world. Again, I am sorry, but not for are still true to self....and we as a people are lost...

Unknown said...

Thank you Mark Charles for pointing this out. One more element of hypocrisy in the foundation of contemporary America that needs to be addressed in order to properly use the awesome tools there forged by good alliance between Indigenous people and Europeans. Those Europeans had a sense of the complexity of power and corruption fueling the tyranny they still try to escape. The notion of equality expressed in the Declaration was clearly contaminated by European colonialism, or, worse yet, a Roman perception that England carries.

Getting away from the king was a good thing. However, at the civil war, which was funded by the likes of the Rothschild and others descended from the barons , in league Rome and the king and other war mongers, the federal government was well infiltrated by Roman/Teutonic powers. What that does, when in secrecy, is to create a tendency to reject the parts of the Declaration that serve us, all of us human beings.

In your article you state that things are codified in the Declaration. I'm constantly reminded that the Declaration is not law, but rather the statement of intent to create law. Therefore the constitution is truly codified. The articles and sections are the actual codifications.

What the framers did was learn from the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. The Articles of Confederation are their, and the colonies efforts, to mimic the Native peoples developed system of government. But not recorded in history was the constant social
sabotage of the Tory. It is quite likely that sabotage is most responsible for the blatent hypocrisy found in Americas framing documents. We, the people can deal with that, the structure of the framing documents investment of power in the people makes this possible.

But the mechanisms of the natural law carried from the North East tribes needs natural people to wield it, whatever blood they be or wherever they are from. Understanding is the key to cooperation; forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance, respect, trust friendship and love, protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I am educated from the oral histories of Indigenous American people, who have gathered many scraps of other oral histories from other American Natives as well as others around the globe. Specifically the Coastal Band of Chumash people in a Santa Barbara California

They are not federally recognized Indians because they, in some ways are still at war with the colonizing forces. But it is a spiritual war now. A war fought with the veracity of beliefs, knowledge and facts about human beings.

I would like you to view a one hour documentary they compelled me to
produce titled "CIRCA, Stolen Spirit, Frauds of Colonization".

You can download it from this page.

And do download it rather than streaming it, because other Native people you know will be interested in the hidden history it brings to light.

You can contact me at ;

There are many other things I need to share with you about how to
protect life in our world, and I know Indigenous people have a better sense of that than colonists.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Charles:
I wish to deny most of your major statements regarding anyone but yourself and Indians.
However, I would rather place my comments in front of you rather than your rapt audience here
in this self-gratifying blog. Because, what I have to say is truer than most of your speech especially your recent talk in Portland, OR.
It is clear to me that you do not understand the Documents given to us by our Founding Fathers.
Your use of slurs and angry terms are childish and without any power.
Let me know
Red Man Jim

Dave said...

Liberals never let a tragedy go without energizing the victims to surrender their identities. It is you who are perpetuating the racial stereotypes. We are correcting racism and stamping out any signs of inequality among men, beyond any nation in the history of mankind. And we are doing this as the greatest superpower in the history of earth. Our forefather's made a mistake with cost us millions of lives to correct in the civil war. Yet, we made the sacrifices and have spent years correcting these errors. Now, as democrats start to join the fight, which was largely led by the republicans, you accuse us of racism for immigration reforms that you don't like? And to accuse us of sexism is laughable. We willingly granted women adequate rights and have enforced them, when asked. Indians have quite a few special rights of sovereignty, which is an interesting effort. I'm sorry the term savage was used as a racist slur, but there were savage tactics and attacks that were very "sexists and racist" by some of the worst indian tribes. I'm not excusing it. That's a cultural explanation, not exculpation. The best of the indians deserved full status and respect as men, which was not the case. We have certainly learned from the first lines of our declaration quite a bit. I would like to point out exactly where we should be learning more....
How much more is life a right than liberty? Life is rarely surrendered or taken and only after extreme caution and care to be sure it isn’t exterminated lightly. Liberties are occasionally taken temporarily just for suspicion of guilt and pursuit of happiness is clearly a privilege that must not impinge on anyone’s life or liberty. Interesting collection of rights but few consider the levels of significance that each word conveys. Pursuit of happiness is a distant priority, yet somehow addressed by this lofty declaration, which could be considered a declaration of existence. The birth certificate declaring our reasons to become independent. These words are presented with the intent of excusing the taking of life from the British soldiers who are obeying their king. You might say they are innocents in the battles. So even while this document clearly prioritizes life over liberty, these words are motivated to take life for liberties. Today we are also experiencing some oppression by governance. In some ways, all governance is oppressive. Oppression has it’s limits of usefulness and tolerance. We tolerate governance while other see our governance as oppressive. The oppression of the politically correct has started to reach absurdity, since they can’t tell boys from girls. They can’t protect little girls from psychotic boys. Hopefully, this election season will temper the progressives. We are already paying for gender correction in prisons. Absurdity is just a couple steps from oppression. Children should not be their experimental pawns. Girls need protection from confused boys. This is one of the most important basic premises of parenting teens for both sexes.

Unknown said...

loving your post.
Happy Independence Day 2018 Wishes

Reba said...

I have read the declaration of independence. And yes I do not appreciate the word " savage" as a reference to Indians for my great-great grandmother and great grandmother is Cherokee.