Saturday, August 22, 2015

Immigration Reform and the Birthright of American Citizenship

On Monday August 18, Donald Trump released his Immigration Reform proposal. One of the more interesting components of his suggested policy is to end our country's practice of birthright citizenship, which is the granting of citizenship to anyone who is born within our borders. As has been the pattern throughout his entire campaign, the elevated rhetoric of his proposal drew a line in the sand and served as a lightning rod in the broader national dialogue. Other GOP candidates who are also known for their controversial statements, like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, have aligned themselves with Mr. Trump and echoed his call to end birthright citizenship. While on the other end of the political spectrum, candidates and immigration reform advocates have pounced on this proposal, decrying it as racist, and specifically targeting immigrants of color from our southern borders. Some voices have gone even deeper and discussed the historical roots of birthright citizenship noting that it was adopted from a common practice in English law and affirmed in our Constitution through the 14th Amendment. The same amendment that served as a reversal of the Dred Scott ruling, which intended to keep blacks from attaining US citizenship.

However, there is another component of the birthright citizenship discussion that is sorely missing from both sides of this debate.

“Under what authority is the birthright of US citizenship rooted?”

Statue in Grant Park in Chicago, IL
"To Christopher Columbus Discoverer of America:
'By the grace of God and in the Name of her majesty
Queen Isabella, I am taking possession of this land.'
October 2, 1492"
Beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1492, the lands of North and South America were “discovered” and colonized by the nations of Europe who were armed with a doctrine of the Catholic Church. Essentially, this “doctrine of discovery” stated that European nations had the right to discover, exploit and gain profit from any lands (and people) not ruled by Christian rulers.

Common sense tells us that you can only discover lands which are uninhabited. Otherwise your actions would more correctly be classified as stealing. So claiming the right of discovery over lands that are inhabited requires dehumanizing the people who are already there.

 In 1823, as a very young United States of America was struggling to create a legal framework that justified its existence in lands it had stolen and committed genocide to inhabit, the Doctrine of Discovery was used as the legal grounds for land titles.
"As they [European colonizing nations] were all in pursuit of nearly the same object, it was necessary, in order to avoid conflicting settlements, and consequent war with each other, to establish a principle, which all should acknowledge as the law by which the right of acquisition, which they all asserted, should be regulated as between themselves. This principle was, that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession."
(1823 United States Supreme Court - Johnson v. M'Intosh)
In plain English, what the Supreme Court said is that any European foreigner who was here before any other European foreigner, could discover land, claim title to it, and take possession of it for their respective nations. By using the language of discovery instead of the language of theft, the dehumanization of Native peoples through the discovery of our lands was established by the Supreme Court as the legal precedent for land titles. And initially in this country, the right to vote, a fundamental right of any US citizen, was based on land ownership.

The birthright of American citizenship is rooted in the racist concept of discovery.

As a Native man, I am definitely not opposed to the idea of reexamining this dehumanizing legal construct. However, I am quite certain that is not the conversation Mr. Trump had in mind when he articulated his immigration policy.  But if our nation was honest, on both sides of the political aisle, the mere mention of birthright citizenship in reference to immigration reform should generate some very awkward dialogue regarding the foundations of our nation, and who is and who is not properly documented.

Statue near US Capitol in Washington, DC
"To the memory of Christopher Columbus
Whose high faith and indomitable courage
gave to mankind a New World."
Immigration reform is an incredibly complex issue for a colonial nation of immigrants to address.  And the highly partisan and politically charged environment of a Presidential primary campaign is definitely not the proper place for such a conversation. This dialogue will require collective wisdom, broad participation, incredible humility, and an abundance of raw and honest reflection.

It is my firm belief that any attempt to comprehensively and justly reform our nation’s immigration law must include the voices of the indigenous peoples of this land. Without Natives at the table, all we have is one generation of undocumented immigrants trying to decide what to do with another generation of undocumented immigrants, and there is no integrity in the conversation.

This past year the Black Lives Matter movement has worked to expose some of the hidden racial bias of our nation. And the racially charged rhetoric of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is literally forcing our country to make a decision - do we keep racism as our national implicit bias, or do we allow him to champion it as our explicit bias?

I would like to offer a third alternative.

Let’s deal honestly and directly with our nation’s unjust racial bias.

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."

I think this quote gets to the heart of our problems regarding race in the United States. As a nation we do not have a common memory. We have a dominant culture that remembers a history of discovery, expansion, opportunity, and manifest destiny. While many of our minority communities have a lived experience of genocide, slavery, broken treaties, stolen lands, relocation, Jim crow laws, boarding schools, segregation, internment camps, mass incarceration, empty apologizes, and unprecedented institutional violence.

The original injustice of the United States of America is the Doctrine of Discovery. It was this doctrine that allowed the nations of Europe to colonize Africa and enslave African people. And it was this same doctrine that allowed Columbus to get lost at sea, land in a “new world” inhabited by millions, and claim to have discovered it.

The Doctrine of Discovery is a systemically racist doctrine that assumes the dehumanization of natives and blacks. And we have embedded this thinking deep into the foundations of our nation. Our Declaration of Independence perpetuates it. Our Constitution is influenced by it. Our Supreme Court references it. And the memory of our dominant culture is blinded by it.

It is the Doctrine of Discovery that keeps our nation from forming a common memory and, therefore, from experiencing true community. As individuals, and as a nation, we need to acknowledge it. Study it. Teach it. Renounce it. And ultimately, turn from it.

Until we do, we have little hope of ever becoming the just and freedom-loving nation we publicly proclaim to be.

Other Resources:
  1. On September 4, 2015 a documentary on the Doctrine of Discovery, produced by Sheldon Wolfchild and co-directed by Steven Newcomb (author: Pagans in the Promised Land) is scheduled to be publicly released. Visit 38 Plus 2 Productions to learn more about this film.
  2. In a blog article “The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair” I educate about the Doctrine of Discovery and propose the idea for a “Truth Commission,” a series of national conferences beginning in Washington DC in December of 2016. These conferences would attempt to create a common memory through educating people on the Doctrine of Discovery and teaching an accurate history of the United States of America. It would also provide a platform for survivors of Indian boarding schools and other historical injustices to share their stories. For more information you can visit my website (, follow on TwitterFacebookYouTube or Instagram (user name wirelesshogan) or subscribe to the “Truth Commission” email list.

Friday, August 14, 2015

August 14 - National Navajo Code Talkers Day

August 14 is National Navajo Code Talkers Day and it is good that, as a nation, we remember and honor these hundreds of courageous men for their service to our country. On the Navajo Reservation, in Window Rock AZ, there is a statue erected in their honor with a plaque commemorating their service. I would like to share with you the words of this plaque and the names of each of the Code Talkers, but first I would like to give you some of the broader historical context that these men literally came out of.

Boarding Schools:
Indian Boarding Schools were the brainchild of an army Captain and Indian fighter named Richard Henry Pratt. The first school was named Carlisle Indian Industrial School and was opened in a deserted military base in Carlisle Pennsylvania in 1869.
"A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."
- Captain Richard Henry Pratt
In 1893 mandatory Indian Education became law and Chester Nez, one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, was educated in an Indian Boarding School in Fort Defiance AZ. Here are some of his words describing his boarding school experience as a child.
Snow fell softly outside the dormitory windows. Loud whispering came from two beds away. Navajo. I'd been caught speaking Navajo three days before. The Pima matron brushed my teeth with brown fels-Naptha soap. I still couldn't taste food, only the acrid, bitter taste of lye soap. Teachers at the school were encouraged to be strict and the smaller children were frequently  targeted by slaps or kicks. But the lingering taste of the soap was worse than either of those punishments.
The knowledge of constant danger sat lodged in the pit of my stomach like a rock. I tried by best to answer questions correctly, but never knew when a matron would strike. They watched, their dark cold eyes waiting for us to make a mistake, to do something wrong.
I was always afraid.
Chester Nez (from his book "Code Talker") 

"Indian Boarding Schools remained in operation in the United States as late as the 1990s. The number of Native American children in the boarding schools reached a peak in the 1970s, with an estimated enrollment of 60,000 in 1973. Investigations of the later twentieth century have revealed many documented cases of sexual, manual, physical and mental abuse occurring at such schools."  (Wikipedia)

Citizenship and Voting Rights:
In 1924 the US Congress passed the Indian Citizenship act which declared all non-citizens Indians born in the US to be citizens. However because voting was considered a states right, the states of Arizona and New Mexico kept Indians disenfranchised until 1948.

Thus, because the Navajo reservation is located in the Southwest, primarily within the states of Arizona and New Mexico, when the Navajo Code Talkers were serving this country, they did not even have the right to vote.

Please keep this history in mind as you read the following words:

The Legendary Navajo Code Talkers

During World War II, in the South Pacific Theater, the Japanese were extremely proficient at breaking into military radio communications and transmissions. Thus they were able to decipher U.S. Military codes. The U.S. Armed forces needed to find a secure method of communication if they were to have any chance of defeating a cleaver and intelligent foe. To counter the cleverness of the Japanese cryptographers, 29 Navajo Marines were recruited to devise a secret military code using their native language. By war's end, there were over 400 Navajo Marines serving as code talkers and the code vocabulary had doubled. So successful was this innovative code that the Marine Corps commanders credited it with saving the lives of countless American Marines and soldiers. It enabled their success engagements throughout the Pacific Theater which included the battles for Guadalcanal, Wake Island, Tarawa, Saipan, Guam, Midway, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The code paved the way to early victory for the allied forces in the South Pacific. Major Howard M. Conner, 5th Marine Division Signal Officer stationed in Iwo Jima commented on the gallantry of the Navajo Code Talkers: "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would not have taken Iwo Jima."

Far from their homes, these brave young Navajo Marines served our nation with honor and dignity. The tale of their exploits remained a closely guarded secret for decades in the event that the Navajo Code Talkers unique talents would be needed again. In 1968 the Navajo code was finally declassified. In July 2001, at the National Capital Rotunda, United States President, the honorable George W. Bush, awarded the Congressional Gold Medals to the first 29 Navajo Code Talkers, their surviving spouses or children. In November 2001 at the Navajo Nation capital of Window Rock Arizona, the Congressional Silver Medals were awarded to the rest of the Navajo Code Talkers, their surviving spouses or children. Sadly, many of the Navajo Code Talkers have passed on never knowing of the honor a grateful nation has bestowed upon them. The Navajo Code Talkers will never be forgotten.

Dine' Bizaad Yee Atah Naayee' Yik'eh Deesdlii

Navajo Code Talkers
Akee, Dan
Alfred, Johnnie (or Johnny)
Allen, Perry
Anderson, Edward B.
Anthony, Franklin A.
Apache, Jimmie
Arviso, Bennie
Ashley, Regis
Augustine, John
Ayze, Lewis Franklin
Babiya, Don
Bahe, Henry Jr.
Bahe, Woody
Baldwin, Benjamin C.
Beard, Harold
Becenti, Ned D.
Becenti, Roy Lewis
Bedoni, Sidney
Begay, Carlos
Begay, Charley (or Charlie) Tsosie (or Sosie)
Begay, Charlie Y.(or H.)
Begay, E.
Begay, George K.
Begay, Henry
Begay, Jerry Claschee Jr.
Begay, Jimmie M.
Begay, Joe N.
Begay, Lee H.
Begay, Leo B.
Begay, Leonard
Begay, Notah
Begay, Paul
Begay, Roy
Begay, Samuel Hosteen Nez
Begay, Thomas H.
Begay, Walter
Begay, Walter (or Willie) Kesoli
Begay, Wilson J.
Begaye, Fleming D. Sr.
Begody, David Maize
Begody, Roger
Belinda, Wilmer
Belone, Harry Sr.
Benally, Harrison Lee
Benally, Harry
Benally, Jimmie L.
Benally, John Ashi
Benally, Johnson Delwashie
Benally, Samuel
Bennallie (or Benallalie), Jimmie D.
Bentone (or Benton), Willie Sr.
Bernard, John
Betone, Lloyd
Bia, Andrew
Billey, Wilfred E.
Billie, Ben
Billiman, Howard Jr.
Billison, Samuel
Billy, Sam Jones
Bitse, Peter John
Bitsie, Wilsie H.
Bitsoi, Delford E. (or Baldwin)
Bizard, Jesse J.
Black, Jesse
Blatchford, Paul H.
Bluehorse, David
Bowman, John Henry
Bowman, Robert
Brown, Arthur C.
Brown, Clarence Paul
Brown, Cosey Stanley
Brown, John Jr.
Brown, N.A.
Brown, Tsosie Herman
Brown, William Tully
Buck, Wilford
Burke, Bobby
Burnie, Jose Jr.
Burnside, Francis A.
Burr, Sandy
Cadman, William
Calleditto (or Calledito), Andrew
Carroll, Oscar Tsosie
Cattle Chaser, Dennis
Cayedito, Del
Cayedito, Ralph
Charley, Carson Bahe
Charlie, Sam Sr.
Chase, Frederick
Chavez, George Sr.
Chee, Guy Claus
Chee, John
Clah, Stewart
Clark, Jimmie
Claw, Thomas
Cleveland, Benjamin H.
Cleveland, Billie
Cleveland, Ned
Cody, Leslie
Cohoe, James Charles
Craig, Bob Etsitty
Crawford, Eugene Roanhorse
Crawford, Karl Kee (or Lee)
Cronemeyer, Walter
Crosby, Billy
Curley, David
Curley, Rueben
Dale, Ray
Damon, Anson Chandler
Damon, Lowell Smith
Davis, Tully
Deel, Martin Dale
Dehiya, Dan
Dennison, George H.
Dennison, Leo
Dixon, James
Dodge, Jerome Cody
Dooley, Richard
Doolie, John
Doolie, Richardson
Draper, Nelson
Draper, Teddy Sr.
Etsicitty, Kee
Etsitty, Deswood
Evans (or Evas), Harold
Foghorn, Ray
Foster, Harold Y.
Fowler, King
Francisco, Jimmy
Freeman, Edwin
Gatewood, Joseph (or Joe) Patrick
George, William M.
Gishal (or Gishall), Milton Miller
Gleason, Jimmie (or James)
Goldtooth (or Gooldtooth), Emmett
Goodluck, John V.
Goodman, Billie
Gorman, Carl Nelson
Gorman, Tom
Gray, Harvey
Grayson, Bill Lewis
Greymountain, Yazzie
Guerito, Billy Lewis
Gustine, Tully
Guy, Charles
Harding, Ben Williams (or William)
Harding, Jack W.
Hardy, Tom
Harrison, Emmett (or Tom)
Haskie, Ross
Hawthorne, Roy Orville
Haycock, Bud
Hemstreet, Leslie
Henry, Albert
Henry, Edmund Juan Sr.
Henry, Kent Carl
Hickman, Dean (or Dan) Junian
Holiday, Calvin
Holiday (or Holliday), Samuel T.
Housewood, Johnson
Housteen, Dennie
Howard, Ambrose
Hubbard, Arthur Jose
Hudson, Lewey
Hunter, Tom
Ilthma, Oscar B.
Jake, H.
James, Benjamin
James, Billy
James, George B.
Jenson, Nevy
Johle, Elliott
John, Charlie Tsihi
John, Edmund
John, Leroy
Johnny, Earl
Johnson, Deswood Remy
Johnson, Francis Taylor
Johnson, Johnnie (or Johnny)
Johnson, Peter
Johnson, Ralph
Jones, Jack
Jones, Tom H.
Jordan, David
Jose, Teddy
June, Allen Dale
June, Floyd
Keams (or Kearns), Percy
Keedah, Wilson
Kellwood, Joe (or Joseph) H.
Kescoli, Alonzo
Ketchum, Bahe
Kien, William
King, Jimmy Kelly Sr.
Kinlahcheeny, Paul
Kinsel, John Sr.
Kirk, George Harlan Sr.
Kirk, Leo
Kiyaani, Mike
Kontz, Rex T.
Lapahie, Harrison Sr.
Largo, James
Leonard, Alfred
Leroy, George (or John)
Leuppe, Edward
Little, Keith Morrison
Lopez, Tommy K.
MacDonald, Peter
Malone, Max
Malone, Rex T.
Malone, Robert
Maloney, James
Maloney, Paul Edward
Manuelito, Ben Charles
Manuelito, Ira
Manuelito, James C. Sr.
Manuelito, Johnny R.
Manuelito, Peter R.
Marianito, Frank
Mark, Robert
Martin, Matthew
Martinez, Jose
McCab+B201e, William
McCraith, Archibald
Mike, King Paul
Miles, General
Moffitt, Tom Clah
Morgan, Herbert
Morgan, Jack C.
Morgan, Ralph
Morgan, Sam
Morris, Joe
Moss, George Alfred
Multine, Oscar Phillip
Murphy, Calvin Henderson
Nagurski, Adolph (or Alolph) N.
Nahkai, James Thomas Jr.
Nakaidinae, Peter
Napa, Martin
Naswood, Johnson
Negale, Harding
Newman, Alfred K. Sr.
Nez, Arthur
Nez, Chester
Nez, Freeland
Nez, Howard Hosteen Sr.
Nez, Israel Hosteen
Nez, Jack
Nez, Sidney
Notah, Roy (or Ray)
Notah, Willie A.
O'Dell, Billy
Oliver, Lloyd
Oliver, Willard V.
Otero (or Ottero), Tom
Paddock, Layton Sr.
Pahe, Robert D.
**Palmer, Joe (originally Balmer Slowtalker)
Parrish, Paul A.
Patrick, Amos Roy
Patterson, David E.
Peaches, Alfred James
Peshlakai, Sam
Pete, Frank Danny (or Denny)
Peterson, Joe (or Jose) Sr.
Pinto, Gual (or Guy)
Pinto, John
Platero, Richard
Preston, Jimmie
Price, Joe Frederick
Price, Wilson Henry
Reed, Sam
Roanhorse, Harry C.
Sage, Andy
Sage, Denny
Salabiye, Jerry Edgar Sr.
Sandoval, Merril Leo
Sandoval, Peter Paul
Sandoval, Samuel
Sandoval, Thomas
Scott, John
Sells, John Captain
Shields, Freddie
Shorty, Dooley
Shorty, Robert Tom
Silversmith, Joe A.
Silversmith, Sammy
Singer, Oscar Jones
Singer, Richard B.
Singer, Tom
Skeet, Wilson Chee
Slinky, Richard T.
Slivers, Albert James
**Slowtalker, Balmer (later Joe Palmer)
Smiley, Arcenio
Smith, Albert
Smith, Enock
Smith, George
Smith, Raymond R.
Smith, Samuel Jesse (or Jessie) Sr.
Soce, George Bill
Sorrell, Benjamin G. Sr.
Spencer, Harry
Tabaha, Johnnie (or Johnie) Sr.
Tah, Alfred
Tah, Edward
Talley, John
Tallsalt, Bert
Thomas, Edward
Thomas, Richard Sr.
Thompson, Claire M. Sr.
Thompson, Everett (or Everitt) M.
Thompson, Francis Tso
Thompson, Frank T.
Thompson, Nelson S.
Todacheene, Carl Leo
Todacheenie, Frank Carl
Tohe, Benson
Toledo, Bill Henry
Toledo, Curtis
Toledo, Frank
Toledo, Preston
Toledo, Willie
Towne, Joseph H.
Towne, Zane
Tracy, Peter
Tso, Chester Housteen
Tso, Howard Benedict
Tso, Paul Edward
Tso, Samuel N.
Tsosie, Alfred
Tsosie, Cecil Gorman
Tsosie, Collins D.
Tsosie, David W.
Tsosie, Harry
Tsosie, Howard
Tsosie, Kenneth
Tsosie, Samuel Sr.
Tsosie, Woody B.
Upshaw, John
Upshaw, William R.
Vandever, Joe Sr.
Visalia, Buster
Wagner, Oliver
Walley, Robert (or Roberts)
Werito, John
Whitman, Lyman Jimmie
Willeto (or Willetto), Frank (or Frankie) Chee Jr.
Williams, Alex
Williams, Kenneth
Willie, George Boyd
Willie, John W. Jr.
Wilson, William Dean
Woodty, Clarence Bahe (or Bahi)
Yazza, Peter
Yazza, Vincent
Yazzie, Charlie
Yazzie, Clifton
Yazzie, Daniel
Yazzie, Eddie Melvin
Yazzie, Edison Kee
Yazzie, Felix
Yazzie, Francis
Yazzie, Frank Harold
Yazzie, Harding
Yazzie (or Yazhe), Harrison A.
Yazzie, Joe Shorty
Yazzie, John
Yazzie, Justine D.
Yazzie, Lemuel Bahe
Yazzie, Ned
Yazzie, Pahe D.
Yazzie, Peter
Yazzie, Raphael D.
Yazzie, Robert H.
Yazzie, Sam
Yazzie, William
Yellowhair, Leon
Yellowhair, Stanley
Yellowman, Howard Thomas
Yoe, George Edward
Zah, Henry
(source Lapahie)

Ahe'hee' shi'chei doo shi'nali

Mark Charles

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The stealing of Oak Flat and the trauma of the Doctrine of Discovery

On December 19, 2014 House Resolution 3979, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act was

signed into law. The word "Apache" appears 29 times throughout the pages of this law. Most frequently used to refer to Apache helicopters. However, on page 442 the term "Apache" refers to something that has absolutely nothing to do with helicopters. On page 442, Section 3003 is titled “Southeast Arizona land exchange and conservation” and there the word Apache is used in reference to sacred Apache lands.

The Apache people have worked successfully for years to keep these sacred lands off limits to mining companies. But a last minute rider buried in this massive, must pass, Defense bill by Arizona Senators McCain and Flake changed that. Through this law, Resolution Copper, whose parent company’s affiliates are campaign contributors to Senator John McCain, was given Apache lands for the purpose of mining.

How did this happen?

What gives the United State senators from a state that is barely 100 years old the right to give away lands which the Apache people have held sacred for centuries?

That 'right' is taken from another piece of buried history, known as the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery is a series of Papal Bulls written in the 15th century that is essentially the church in Europe saying to the nations of Europe "where ever you go, whatever lands you find not ruled by Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the land is yours for the taking." It was the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed European Nations to colonize the continent of Africa and enslave the African people. It was also the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christopher Columbus to get lost at sea, land in a "new world" inhabited by millions and claim to have 'discovered' it. Because his doctrine told him that we were not people and, therefore, this land was empty.

Over the years the Doctrine of Discovery has become embedded into the very fabric of our nation. In 1823 the United States Supreme Court referenced the Doctrine of Discovery in the case Johnson vs. M'Intosh. Two men of European descent were in litigation over a piece of land. One party purchased it from a native tribe and the other party purchased it from the government and they wanted to know who owned it. In reviewing the case the Supreme Court essentially stated that based on the Doctrine of Discovery native people only have the right of occupancy to the land while Europeans have the right of Discovery and therefore true title to the land. This case became part of Supreme Court case precedent regarding land titles and was referenced by the court as recently as 2005.

So it should not surprise anyone that in 2014 the Congress of this young nation felt no qualms about passing a bill giving away lands held sacred by the Apache people to a mining company from two foreign colonial countries: The United Kingdom and Australia.

How often does this happen?

While I do not make it a practice to read every Defense Department Appropriations bill passed by our Congress, I am aware of at least one other rider inserted into such a bill. On December 19, 2009, Congress passed House Resolution 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. Buried on page 45 of this 67 page bill, Section 8113 is titled “Apology to Native Peoples of the United States.” What follows is a seven bullet point apology that mentions no specific tribe, no specific treaty and no specific injustice. It essentially says; native people had some nice land, US citizens didn’t take it very politely, we’re sorry for some of that history, but that’s in the past so let’s just call it all of our lands and take care of it together. And then it ends with a disclaimer stating that nothing in this section is legally binding.

To date this apology has not been announced, publicized or read by the White House or by Congress.

But on December 19, 2012 over 150 people from throughout the country gathered in front of the US Capitol to host a public reading of this bill and the apology contained therein.

Why are these actions buried?

That answer is simple. Trauma.

The United States of America has built its reputation on being a freedom loving nation who proclaims "all men are created equal." So when they act in a way that is legal by their standards but in complete contrast to their image, it is traumatic. It is traumatizing to realize that maintaining the status quo requires perpetuating the dehumanizing foundations of our nation. It is embarrassing and painful to publicly admit that our present day leaders must participate in the racist systems that the founding fathers put in place as they built their biased version of a “more perfect union.” So instead, Congress buries their actions and hides their words deep within their own bureaucracy in an effort to save face and cover their shame.

What do we do?

I often tell people that being Native American and living in the United States, it feels like our indigenous peoples are an old grandmother who lives in a large and very beautiful house. Years ago, some people came into our house and they 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 we don't come out. But the thing that is the most hurtful and that causes us the most pain, is that virtually no one from this party ever comes upstairs, acknowledges our presence, 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."

To everyone who showed up in Washington DC. To everyone who supported #ApacheStronghold along their journey. To everyone who signed the petitions exposing the actions of our Congress. To everyone who is going to call their congressional representative and ask them to support House Resolution 2811, returning Oak Flat to the Apache people...

We want to say; “We’re proud of you.”

We thank you and are proud of you for standing with us, the indigenous hosts of this land as we help our congressional leaders and the broader nation deal with the trauma that comes from being confronted with the dehumanizing declarations they've made, the racist laws they've passed and the unjust actions they've buried.

George Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader once 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."

I think this quote gets to the heart of our nation's challenges regarding race. Much of the true history of our nation has been buried, and, therefore, we struggle greatly to have real community. But when standing together, when refusing to allow our leaders to bury their injustices, when dealing head on with the trauma that plagues our nation, when working together to create a common memory, we are planting the seeds to begin to change that.


I originally wrote the above remarks to be read at the Apache Stronghold rally and protest in DC on July 22, 2015. However due to time restraints I was asked to pair my remarks down to 2 minutes.  So I did not have the opportunity to speak these remarks at the event, but I still wanted to share them because I am convinced that unless our nation acknowledges and deals with the Doctrine of Discovery, injustices like the stealing of Oak Flat will continue to occur.

In my blog article “The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair” I educate about the Doctrine of Discovery and propose the idea for a “Truth Commission,” a series of national conferences beginning in Washington DC in December of 2016. These conferences would attempt to create a common memory through educating people on the Doctrine of Discovery and teaching an accurate history of the United States of America. It would also provide a platform for survivors of Indian boarding schools to share the stories of their experiences. For more information you can visit my website (, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram (user name wirelesshogan) or subscribe to the “Truth Commission” email list.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Remarks shared by Mark Charles at #ApacheStronghold rally on Capitol Hill in Washington DC

Chairman Rambler, Congressman Grijalva, Wendsler Nosie, and all my relatives standing here today. Hello my Name is Mark Charles. My mother is American of Dutch heritage and my father is Navajo.

On December 19, 2014 House Resolution 3979, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law. Buried on page 442 is section 3003 which gives away sacred Apache lands to the Resolution Copper mining company.

The Apache people have worked successfully for years to keep these lands off limits to mining companies. But a last minute rider buried in this bill by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake changed that.

It is at desperate times like these that I find it beneficial to remind myself of some of the historic words found in our Nation's Declaration of Independence.  Please allow me to read them.

"...He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages..."

Yes, I am reading the correct Declaration and no I am not mis-quoting. 30 lines below the statement "All men are created equal", the Declaration of Independence refers to natives as "merciless Indian Savages."

This past month our country has been grappling with the systemic racism represented by the Confederate flag, but we forget that the racism was not isolated to the Confederate States, it goes right down to the very foundations of this nation. (*)

And so I am deeply grateful to be here with you today, helping remind our members of congress, our nation, and even the world...

That we, the Native peoples of this land, are not merciless.

Technically we are not even Indians (you can check your history books, Columbus was lost and had no clue where he was).

And we are definitely not savages.

We are the indigenous people of this land and we deserve to be treated with respect.

As a Navajo man and a member of MoveOn, I am honored to present this petition, signed by more than 36K MoveOn members from across the country. Please contact your congressional representative and ask them to support House Resolution 2811, Congressman Grijalva bill returning the sacred lands known as Oak Flat back to the Apache people.


* This paragraph was included in my prepared remarks but accidentally omitted in my spoken remarks.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A day of lament...

Today I lament, I mourn over the life of each and every person that was violently taken in Charleston South Carolina.

I lament that a 5 year old child was robbed of her innocence and forced to "play" dead in order to survive.

I lament that today, the confederate flag is still flying in the Capitol of South Carolina.

I lament the roots of dehumanization that exist within the founding documents of the United States of America; in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Supreme Court case precedents.

I lament that our nation continues to celebrate its racist foundations with holidays like Columbus Day, sports mascots like the Washington Redsk*ns and the putting of faces like Andrew Jackson on our currency.

I lament the deaths of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and countless others.

I lament the words of our political candidates who promise to lead America back to its former "greatness", ignorant of the fact that much of America's "greatness" was built on the exploitation and dehumanization of its people of color.

I lament that today the dominant culture in America is in shock because in the city of Charleston South Carolina one individual committed a single evil and heinous act of violence, while minority communities throughout the country are bracing themselves because the horrors of the past 500 years are continuing into their lifetime.

I lament with every person and community, throughout the history of this nation, who, due to the color of their skin, had to endure marginalization, silence, discrimination, beatings, lynching, cultural genocide, boarding schools, internment camps, mass incarceration, broken treaties, stolen lands, murder, slavery and discovery.

Today I lament that the United States of America does not share a common memory and therefore is incapable of experiencing true community.

Mark Charles (Navajo)

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 my blog article “The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair” I educate about the Doctrine of Discovery and propose the idea for a “Truth Commission,” a series of national conferences beginning in Washington DC in December of 2016. These conferences would attempt to create a common memory through educating people on the Doctrine of Discovery and teaching an accurate history of the United States of America. It would also provide a platform for survivors of Indian boarding schools to share the stories of their experiences. For more information you can 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

Friday, April 24, 2015

Creating a Common Memory with the Doctrine of Discovery

"Everybody get your cell phones out!"

"Make sure you get this on video!"

Early last March, due to an unusually heavy snowstorm in Albuquerque, NM, my flight was cancelled, my travel diverted, and I found myself unexpectedly stuck in downtown Los Angeles for 24 hours while I waited to catch a train back to the Navajo reservation. I was spending the day visiting the LA Union Rescue Mission, utilizing their Chaplains Study to get some work done. It was a beautiful Southern California morning. The sun was shining and my window was open as I worked 2 stories above skid row. I could hear the voices on the streets and knew the police were out, asking people to take down their tents. But it was above the normal noise and commotion that I heard something like the quotes above. So I walked over to the open window to see what was going on.

Pow! Pow!

Pow! Pow! Pow!

I saw people scatter. I watched people run. I heard people screaming.

I did not have a full view of the street so I ran up to the roof and looked down over skid row.
Already I could hear sirens in the distance and see helicopters flying above. That was quick. It didn't take me long to find the body of the homeless man, named Africa, lying on the sidewalk. Police cars pulled up. Yellow tape was strung. More police came. People were moved back. More police came. Then an ambulance. The body was covered, placed on a stretcher and removed from the street. More tape was strung. More policemen arrived. Helicopters circled overhead. First the nearby sidewalks were cleared. Then the sidewalks across the street. Next a line of police was formed and the block was cleared, first to the south and then to the north. I had never seen anything like this before. It was crazy. I did not know the story, but I wondered if I was witnessing another Ferguson? It was incredibly troubling.

One does not need to look hard to conclude that the US has a race problem. In the Declaration of Independence, 30 lines below the famous quote "All men are created equal" the founders dehumanized natives by referring to us as "merciless Indian savages." The Constitution specifically excludes women, Indians and African slaves. And in 1823, Johnson vs. M’Intosh, the US Supreme court set a case precedent for land titles based on the dehumanization of natives in the Doctrine of Discovery. A precedent which was referenced by the Court as recently as 2005 (City of Sherrill vs. Oneida Nation of NY).

Broken treaties. Slavery. The Indian Removal Act of 1830. Jim Crow Laws. The Dawes Allotment Act. Segregation. Indian Boarding Schools. Mass incarceration. The apology to Native peoples that Congress buried in the 2010 Department of Defense appropriations act. And the list goes on and on.

While it is easy to conclude, I actually don't think race is our primary problem. Make no mistake, the founding fathers of the United States of America were absolutely racist, and they embedded their racism deep into the foundations of this nation. But today, our primary problem is not race. The problem is trauma and the telling of our history.

Now, I know when I mention trauma, it is easy to jump directly to the historical trauma of our minority communities; the descendants of slaves and the survivors of boarding schools.  And while I agree that both of these communities suffer greatly from historical trauma, I do not think they are the ones suffering the most. Rather, I think the worst victims of trauma in the United States is the white descendants of European immigrants and the rest of the dominant culture. For centuries they have been building a nation based on the dehumanization of indigenous and African peoples and their descendants. They have bought them, sold them, beat them, raped them and killed them. They have stolen from them, relocated them, unjustly incarcerated them, and in every other imaginable way stepped on them.

This has gone on for over 500 years.

Now the trauma is so great that our states and schools cannot even bear to teach their own history. They attempt to pass laws forbidding the teaching of negative, unpatriotic history. The educational system doesn't mention the Doctrine of Discovery. Tests don't ask what justifications were given by the colonists when declaring their independence. We build monuments to Christopher Columbus and give 20 Congressional Medals of Honor to the US soldiers who participated in the massacre at Wounded Knee. We put Andrew Jackson on the $20 dollar bill and, on a mountain side sacred to Native peoples, engrave the face of the US President who, with the hanging of the Dakota 38, ordered the largest mass execution in the history of our nation (Abraham Lincoln).

This is our past. This is our history. This is how our nation was built.

The United States of America is not rich and powerful because of God’s blessing. We are rich and powerful because we are systemically racist and inherently unjust.

Native peoples know it. African Americans know it. Other colonized nations and peoples around the world know it. In fact, much of the international community knows it.

But most Americans don't.

They were never taught. They were never told. Their trauma, over the memory of what they've done, keeps it buried. And so healing is hard to come by. And reconciliation is next to impossible.

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."

Historically, our country has a built-in problem with race. But I do not think race is our primary problem.  Today, not only are we dealing with the historical trauma of African Americans and Native peoples, but we also have a deeply traumatized white America. The path of healing and the road towards reconciliation will not begin with new laws, or even with an amendment to our dehumanizing Constitution. Instead, it must start with the telling of the truth and an accurate portrayal of our history.

If we want real community in this country, we must begin with creating a common memory.

But until we do, keep your cell phones handy. Because Eric Garner, buried apologies, The Washington Redsk*ns, and the unfortunate death of ‘Africa’ is only the tip of the iceberg for a very troubled and deeply traumatized nation.

In my blog article “The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair” I proposed the idea for a “Truth Commission,” a series of national conferences beginning in Washington DC in December of 2016. These conferences would attempt to create a common memory through educating people on the Doctrine of Discovery and teaching an accurate history of the United States of America. It would also provide a platform for survivors of Indian boarding schools to share the stories of their experiences. For more information you can visit my website (, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram (user name wirelesshogan) or subscribe to the “Truth Commission” email list.