Saturday, August 27, 2016

Original Environmentalists Protest Short Sighted Economic Policies of the United States

Map of Dakota Access Pipeline route
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a proposed 1,100-mile pipeline that will be used to carry over a half-million barrels of crude oil per day from northwest North Dakota to southern Illinois, across four states.

Since 2014, after first learning about this project, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has actively opposed the permitting and construction of this pipeline, voicing their concerns to the company, the Federal Government, the United States Congress, and the State. Finally, the tribe filed litigation in federal court in the District of Columbia to challenge the actions of the Corps of Engineers regarding the Dakota Access pipeline.

A Dakota Access Pipeline background sheet provided by the Standing Rock Tribe, reported that initially, Dakota Access considered two possible routes of construction: a northern route near Bismarck, and the southern route taking the pipeline to the border of the Standing Rock reservation.  The company selected the southern route because the route to the north would be near the city of Bismarck and could jeopardize residents’ drinking water.

The statement went onto report that "the initial environmental assessment, the maps utilized by Dakota Access—and reviewed and incorporated by the Army Corps—did not indicate that the Tribe’s lands were within one half mile of the proposed crossing of Lake Oahe [on the Missouri River]."  In fact, the statement went on to say, "the company’s initial draft environmental assessment of December 9, 2015 actually omitted the very existence of the tribe on all maps and any analysis."

The Tribe specifically met with numerous federal agencies to discuss the harm imposed by the pipeline, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

But to no avail. On July 25, 2016, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers granted authorization to the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, less than half a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

On their website detailing the Dakota Access Pipeline project, Energy Transfer promises, "We will listen to and address questions from the community, landowners, and other interested stakeholders about the project."

President Obama visiting Standing Rock
Sioux Reservation - June 2014
When President Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in June 2014, he told the tribe, "I know that throughout history, the United States often didn’t give the nation-to-nation relationship the respect that it deserved.  So I promised when I ran to be a President who’d change that -- a President who honors our sacred trust, and who respects your sovereignty, and upholds treaty obligations, and who works with you in a spirit of true partnership, in mutual respect, to give our children the future that they deserve."

But that respect and partnership has not materialized. Barely more than 2 years after President Obama's visit, the children and youth of Standing Rock felt compelled to run from Cannonball, ND to Washington, DC in a desperate attempt to draw attention to the dangers of this pipeline and bring a message to President Obama.

"If the Dakota Access Pipeline is built through the Missouri River, it risks our health and our water. This summer, we’re running for our lives."

But after running for 2,200 miles, they were only able to meet with Army Corps officials, and returned to the reservation on August 10.

On Wednesday afternoon, August 24, 2016, many of those youth returned along with an estimated 350 people and stood outside of the Federal District Court in Washington, DC to once again protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protesters came from the Sioux, Seneca, Navajo, Cherokee, and many other tribes from throughout Indian Country, including approximately 30 members of the Cheyenne River Sioux who rode a bus for 31 hours from their reservation in South Dakota to attend the protest.

June and Valita Little Shield and Lavay Hayes
(Cheyenne River Sioux)
Cherry Creek, located on the Cheyenne River Reservation, is south of Standing Rock but along the same river that the pipeline will cross. Tribal members and residents, June and Valtina Little Shield, rode the bus to DC because they said, "That water does run through our reservation and we don't want that too."

"I have grand-kids that fish, and we eat the fish. We water our horses; our kids go swimming down there.  I live about 135 yards from the river. We use the river a lot."

The protest on Wednesday went on for several hours and included many native speakers, singers, dancers, youth, elders, and leaders. Also present were numbers of non-natives; seasoned activists, environmentalists, and other concerned parties, organizations, and citizens. At the end of the protest, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, Dave Archambault, exited from the court and shared with the protesters what had taken place inside.
Dave Archambault
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman

The judge, James E. Boarsberge, said he will not render a decision on the lawsuit brought by the Standing Rock against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access, LLC until September 9, 2016.

One day after the protest, Lawrence O'Donnell, on his MSNBC show "The Final Word," spoke about the Dakota Access Pipeline and the horrific history of injustice of that the United States of America has against Native Americans. He honored the Standing Rock Sioux, and other tribes, for standing up in opposition of this pipeline and identified Native Americans as this country's "original environmentalists." He went on to say that "for hundreds of years they [Native Americans] were our only environmentalists. The only people who thought that land and rivers should be preserved in their natural state. The only people who thought a mountain, a prairie, or a river could be a sacred place."

In contrast, one of the many promises that Energy Transfer makes regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline is the short term and temporary economic boost, they say, this project will bring to the local communities.

"The project will bring significant economic benefits to the region that it transverses. During the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, goods and services will be procured from local businesses along the entire route. The spending for goods and services will generate significant sales tax revenue for local economies. The project’s estimated 10,000 temporary employees will be staying at local hotels, eating in restaurants, and shopping in stores. Additionally, the use of local professional services such as engineering, real estate, legal, and skilled trades such as surveying and construction, will generate income tax revenues."

Kim Sierra (Tuscarora)
But those short sighted, temporary, economic advantages do not offer much hope for many Native people and youth as our cultural and environmental values are frequently more concerned about the lives and needs of our children and grandchildren, generations down the road.

Levi Winnie (Seneca), who traveled from New York to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux and many other tribes, said, "We have to look out for our future generations. We're not here just for us. We're here for our grandkids', [their] grandkids’, [and their] grandkids."

Kim Sierra of the Tuscarora Nation, located in North Carolina, when asked what she would like to say to the broader United States regarding caring for the environment responded:

"Respect our land and respect our water. Once it's gone, it's gone and no amount of money that they're going to be making is going to replace that. Their children won't be able to eat oil, they won't be able to grow anything from it. This matters for us, as much as it does for them and their future. The money is not worth it."

*Background on Dakota Access Pipeline provided by StandingRock.org 


Kim Barber (Navajo)
Lallynn Antell (Standing Rock Sioux)
Olivia White (Seneca)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: Background on the Dakota Access Pipeline

Background Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe:

The Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation is home to Dakota and Lakota people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Since time immemorial, they have lived and governed a vast territory throughout North and South Dakota, and parts of Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Currently, the Tribe is located in central North and South Dakota.

Despite strong objections from the Tribe from the first time they heard of the project, on July 25, 2016, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers granted authorization to the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe as part of the construction of a 1,100 mile pipeline that is proposed to carry over a half-million barrels of Bakken crude oil to Illinois and across four states. The current route of construction takes the pipeline less than one half mile from the Tribe’s reservation border, and thus the Tribe maintains a sovereign interest in protecting its cultural resources and patrimony that remain with the land. In addition, all along the route of the pipeline are sites of religious and cultural significance to our people – including burial sites of our ancestors. The pipeline would cross the Tribe’s traditional and ancestral lands and the construction of the pipeline jeopardizes many sacred places. But, while federal law requires meaningful consultation with the Tribe on these matters, that has not happened here. The Tribe opposes DAPL because we must honor our ancestors and protect our sacred sites and our precious waters.

Initially, Dakota Access considered two possible routes of construction: a northern route near Bismarck, and the southern route taking the pipeline to the border of the Standing Rock reservation. Federal law requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review—and ultimately deny or grant—Dakota Access’ application for the necessary permits to construct the pipeline because the southern route takes the pipeline across the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, implicating lands and water under federal jurisdiction.

In the initial environmental assessment, the maps utilized by Dakota Access—and reviewed and incorporated by the Army Corps—did not indicate that the Tribe’s lands were within one half mile of the proposed crossing of Lake Oahe. Furthermore, the company selected this route because the route to the north would be near and could jeopardize the drinking water of the residents in the city of Bismarck. The company’s initial draft environmental assessment of December 9, 2015 made no mention of the fact that the route they chose brings the pipeline near, and could jeopardize, the drinking water of the Tribe and its citizens. It actually omitted the very existence of the tribe on all maps and any analysis, in direct violation of the US environmental justice policies.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been actively opposing the permitting and construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline since the Tribe first learned of the proposal in 2014 and the pipeline’s proposed construction. The Tribe has voiced its strong opposition to the company, to the federal government, to Congress, and to the State. Yet, the Tribe’s plea was ignored and
instead the US sided with the project developer. From the beginning, the Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office requested tribal consultation, but their requests were never fulfilled.

The Tribe continued its efforts to engage as many decision-makers as possible and actively oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Tribe submitted several sets of detailed comments to the Corps, met with high level officials in Washington, DC, and communicated on numerous occasions with the North Dakota Congressional delegation over the past few months. The Tribe specifically met with numerous federal agencies to discuss the harm imposed by the pipeline, including: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. All three agencies subsequently wrote letters to the Army Corps expressing environmental and cultural resource concerns related to the pipeline.

The Tribe has filed litigation in federal court in the District of Columbia to challenge the actions of the Corps of Engineers regarding the Dakota Access pipeline. Basically, this is a suit to enforce their federally protected rights and interests. The Corps has failed to follow the law – both regarding the risk of oil spills and the protection of their sacred places. The Tribe is seeking a preliminary injunction to undo the Corps’ approval of the pipeline, and there will be a hearing before the Judge on August 24. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has asked to join the lawsuit, and other tribes may also be joining.

Separately, tribal citizens have begun a camp called the Sacred Stone Camp. The Tribe continues to stress the importance of handling this matter in the right way, which means that non-violence must be the guiding principle at all times. And, the Tribe will do all it can so that the safety of everyone involved is safeguarded and protected.

In addition, Standing Rock youth ages 6 – 25 from the reservation vowed to run to Washington, DC to deliver a petition with 160,000 signatures on change.org opposing the pipeline to the President of the United States. After running for 2,200 miles, they were only able to meet with Army Corps officials, and held several rallies along the way. They returned to the reservation on August 10, 2016.

Several Tribes have passed resolutions in support of Standing Rock, including the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and others.

To find out how to take action and get involved, please visit http://standingrock.org/news/


Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Problem the Republican Party, and now the Nation, has with Donald Trump

The challenge with Donald Trump is that he understands all too well what made America “great.” And this has presented a problem for the Republican Party and now, with his nomination, will cause a problem for the entire country. America's “greatness” is based on explicit, systemic, and dehumanizing racism.

One cannot discover lands that are already inhabited, unless they believe the previous inhabitants are less than human.

One cannot enslave an entire race of people, unless they consider them to be sub-human (like maybe 3/5ths).

One cannot say "All men are created equal" in their Declaration of Independence, and then 30 lines later refer to Natives as “savages,” unless they have a very narrow definition of who is and who is not human.

One cannot establish the legal precedent for land titles based on a Doctrine of Discovery, stating that natives only have the right of occupancy to land, while Europeans have the right of discovery and therefore the true title to the land, unless they consider indigenous peoples to be less than human.

One cannot refer in their history books to a century of ethnic cleansing and genocide of native peoples as “expansion” and “manifest destiny,” unless they consider the native peoples of this continent to be sub-human.

One cannot write Jim Crow laws, enforce segregation, establish boarding schools, and create internment camps, unless they consider the populations impacted by those systems to be less than human.

And one cannot nominate a candidate for President who promises to "Make America Great Again" when there is not a single point in their nation’s history when citizens of every race were treated as equals under the law.

Unless their definition of “great” is explicit and systemic racism.

And Donald Trump understands that. He announced his campaign for President by calling Mexicans “rapists and murderers.” And he promised to build a great big wall to keep them out. He responded to tragic terrorists attacks by proposing a national ban on an entire religion. And he threatens to torture and kill women, children, and other non-combatants from that people group in his war on terror. He openly mocks and objectifies women. He regularly demeans and marginalizes Native peoples. Donald Trump knows what made America great, and he is bound and determined to usher in a new era of explicit and systemic racism.

Paul Ryan's overwhelming white #SpeakerSelfie
This has created a problem for Paul Ryan, the Republican Party, and now, the entire nation. You see, over the past several decades most Americans have grown uncomfortable with our country's explicit racial bias. And, therefore, they have worked very hard to make our expressions of racism more passive aggressive and implicit (see Paul Ryan's #SpeakerSelfie and Hilary Clinton’s “Off the reservation” comment). This problem came to a head last spring when Donald Trump failed to distance himself from an endorsement by David Duke of the KKK.  Speaker Ryan addressed that issue in a Press Conference when he said:

"If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people's prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln. We believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God and our government. This is fundamental. And if someone wants to be our nominee, they must understand this."

His open and public rebuke, however, was deflated merely minutes later when Speaker Ryan, responding to a question regarding a possible Trump nomination, affirmed that he does indeed "plan to support the [eventual] nominee."

On the surface, his statement appears contradictory. How could someone associate their party with Abraham Lincoln (who freed the slaves), affirm the belief that "all people are created equal," and then immediately pledge to support a nominee who has clearly and repeatedly stated that he does not hold those same values?

This is where it is helpful to have a better historical understanding of Abraham Lincoln and what he was motivated by.

In the museum located at the base of the Lincoln Memorial there is a plaque hanging on the wall that states:

"I would save the Union. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not to save or destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."

I have stood near this plaque and watched lines of people pass by. Most simply read it and move on. Almost no one pauses or even raises an eyebrow. But when I stop them and point out that this plaque is literally stating that according to Abraham Lincoln "Black Lives Don't Matter," they look at me, turn around, read the plaque again, shake their heads in amazement, and then pull out their cameras to take a picture.

I then educate them on another tidbit of history regarding our 16th President.

In December of 1862, Abraham Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in the history of the United States. After the United States failed to meet its treaty obligations, the Dakota people raided American settlers and conflict with the US Military ensued. After more than a month, several hundred Dakota warriors surrendered themselves. They were each tried in military courts, and 303 were condemned to death. Because these were military trials, the executions had to be ordered by the President.

303 deaths seemed too genocidal for Abraham Lincoln. So he modified the criteria of what charges warranted a death sentence. Under his new criteria, only 2 were sentenced to die. That small number seemed too lenient and would most likely lead to an uprising by the white settlers in the area. So, once again, he changed the criteria. Ultimately, 38 Dakota men were executed on December 26, 1862, by order of President Lincoln. It is important to note that he did not order retrials, even though the initial trials could easily have been seen as a sham, but instead he merely changed the criteria (twice) of what charges warranted a death sentence.

"...If I could save the Union [by hanging 303 Dakota warriors], I would do it; and if I could save it [by hanging 2 Dakota Warriors] I would do it; and if I could save it [by hanging 38 Dakota Warriors in the largest mass execution in the history of the United States] I would also do that..."

Abraham Lincoln was primarily motivated by his desire to save the union. Paul Ryan is motivated by his desire to unify the Republican Party and eventually the country. The problem both these men face[d] is that they are attempting to unify a nation that is systemically racist.

And so when Horace Greeley published an op-ed in the New York Tribune calling for immediate emancipation, Abraham Lincoln was compelled to respond in a way that assured the states and citizens who owned slaves that he did not actually believe "Black Lives Mattered." Likewise, when Paul Ryan's Republican Party nominates a candidate who is explicitly racist, the Speaker publicly pledges his support to that nominee. Tragically, both men believe that unity, for a nation that is rooted in racism, requires its leaders, from time to time, to publicly deny the humanity of the minorities within that nation.

But there is a better way.

George 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.”

This quote gets to the heart of our nation’s problem with race. The United States of America does not share a common memory, and therefore, we struggle to have real community. White citizens of this country remember a mythical history of discovery, expansion, opportunity, and exceptionalism, while our communities of color have the lived experience of stolen lands, broken treaties, ethnic cleansing, slavery, Jim Crow laws, boarding schools, segregation, internment camps, and mass incarceration.

There is no common memory.

But we can change that. We can more accurately teach our history. We can acknowledge and address the Doctrine of Discovery and the racism it embedded into our foundations. We can apologize for and own our mistakes. And we can stop pandering to our citizens stuck in their narcissistic and racist world views.

We can create a common memory, and begin planting seeds for better community.

Photo by Kris J Eden
Make no mistake, the United States of America is explicitly and systemically racist. The Declaration of Independence states it. The Constitution codifies it. The Supreme Court legalizes it. Abraham Lincoln affirms it.  Donald Trump campaigns on it. And Speaker Ryan endorses it.

But until we can acknowledge it, we will remain incapable of ever changing it.

The problem the Republican party, and now our entire nation, has with Donald Trump is actually a problem with the very foundations of our country. And while it definitely will not be easy, we can stop endorsing it, and begin changing it.

- Mark Charles (Navajo)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Truth about Abraham Lincoln, #NativeLivesMatter, #BlackLivesMatter

Most people thanked me. Several people shook my hand in appreciation. And one person even gave me a hug.

Like most Americans I spent last weekend trying to process the events of the previous week. A week which saw the tragedies of #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile and #DallasPolice. Throughout the country there were #BlackLivesMatter protests, prayer gatherings, candlelight vigils and healing events between police departments and the communities they serve. Most gatherings were peaceful, although a few became violent. And everywhere emotions ran high.

But as a Native man, I wasn't sure where to go.

I finally decided on the Lincoln Memorial. Throughout recent history, the Lincoln Memorial has become a place where our nation gathers to converse about race and even to heal. There have been many meaningful protests, concerts and speeches on the steps of the memorial to our 16th President. But that was not why I went there.

As a native man, and since moving to Washington DC, I have come to understand more about President Lincoln than some people would ever care to know.

In December of 1862, Abraham Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in the history of the United States. After more than a month of military conflict between the Dakota people, American Settlers and the US Military regarding the failure of the United States to meet its treaty obligations, several hundred Dakota warriors surrendered themselves. They were each tried in military courts and 303 were condemned to death. Because these were military trials, the executions had to be ordered by the President.

303 deaths seemed too genocidal for Abraham Lincoln. So he modified the criteria of what charges warranted a death sentence. Under his new criteria, only 2 were sentenced to die. That small number seemed too lenient and would most likely lead to an uprising by the white settlers in the area. So, once again, he changed the criteria. Ultimately 38 Dakota men were sentenced to death. It is important to note that President Lincoln did not order retrials, even though the initial trials could easily have been seen as a sham, but instead he merely changed the criteria (twice) of what charges warranted a death sentence.

So the day after Christmas 1862, several thousand white American settlers gathered on the streets of Mankato as spectators to the largest mass execution in the history of our nation—ordered by a President who was not primarily concerned with justice, but with appeasing his political base and keeping the peace among the white settlers in his Union.

I have known this history for years and have come to terms with the fact that most Americans embrace a mythical understanding of Abraham Lincoln. A President who, historically, did not believe that Native lives mattered.

But I also knew he was the President who freed the slaves. And, even today, he gives hope to the African American community throughout our country.  Doesn't he?

Last winter, on Martin Luther King Jr. day I decided to visit the Lincoln Memorial. I was new to DC and liked that I could go to such historic monuments on a whim. I took some pictures of Lincoln’s statue and walked around the memorial. I saw that at the base of the memorial there is a small museum. I walked in and found that it contained writings and thoughts regarding the legacy of our 16th President. On one wall was a series of his quotes and words regarding the Union. And in the middle of that wall, etched in stone, I found his following words.

"I would save the Union....

My paramount object
in this struggle
is to save the Union,
and it is not to save
or destroy slavery.

If I could save the Union
without freeing any slave,
I would do it;
and if I could save it
by freeing all the slaves
I would do it;
and if I could save it
by freeing some
and leaving others alone
I would also do that."

I could not believe my eyes. Right there at the Lincoln Memorial, the same memorial where in 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream” speech, the same memorial where in 1939 an African American singer named Marian Anderson challenged segregation and performed in front of 70,000 people, the same memorial where our nation gathers to seek healing and fight for civil rights, and one of the few memorials that allows people of color to feel acknowledged and included. That memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, has a plaque hanging on the wall which literally states, according to Abraham Lincoln, Black Lives Don't Matter.

If we are ever going to experience healing and end the systemic racism of our country, we need to begin by admitting our problems and telling the truth. In virtually every instance, knowing the truth and understanding the depth of the problem is more freeing than perpetuating a myth.

And the truth is, racism in our country runs deep. Even Abraham Lincoln did not believe the lives of people of color mattered. He was not concerned about justice with the Dakota 38, and if he could have saved the Union without freeing any slave, he would have done it.


It’s a sad legacy. But if you understand the Doctrine of Discovery and its influence on the foundations of our country, it is a legacy that is not at all surprising.

George 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.”

This quote gets to the heart of our nation’s problem with race. The United States of America does not share a common memory, and therefore we struggle to have real community. The dominant white culture remembers a mythical history of discovery, expansion, opportunity and exceptionalism, while our communities of color have the lived experience of stolen lands, broken treaties, slavery, Jim Crow laws, boarding schools, segregation, internment camps, and mass incarceration.

There is no common memory.

So after a horrible week—a week when our nation watched the police kill 2 more black men, before our eyes...a week which erupted into protests, violence, insecurity and fear...a week which tragically included the death of 5 police officers...a week which has led Americans to seek places where conversations can be had and answers can be found...

...I went to the Lincoln Memorial and shared the story of the Dakota 38. I helped people understand that President Abraham Lincoln did not believe Natives lives mattered. And then I walked people down to the museum and showed them the quote, etched in stone for all to see, that according to the man who freed the slaves, Black lives didn’t matter either. And if he could have saved his Union any other way, he would have done it.

I attempted to debunk the myth, tell the truth and, hopefully, create a common memory.

Most people thanked me. Several people shook my hand in appreciation. And one person even gave me a hug.

Mark Charles (Navajo)

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)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Native Perspective: What's Behind Donald Trump's Response to Global Warming

In the past year Donald Trump has proposed the building of two different walls. The nation is well versed on the first wall. It's a big one, along our southern border, to be paid for by Mexico, because, as he outlined in his rambling Presidential campaign announcement speech last June, “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

But more recently, Donald has proposed the building of a second wall. This one will be just off the coast of Ireland.
"The New York billionaire is applying for permission to erect a coastal protection works to prevent erosion at his seaside golf resort, Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland, in County Clare. A permit application for the wall, filed by Trump International Golf Links Ireland and reviewed by POLITICO, explicitly cites global warming and its consequences — increased erosion due to rising sea levels and extreme weather this century — as a chief justification for building the structure.”
(Politico May 23, 2016)
Over the past several years, and throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has railed against the science of global warming. In 2014 he referred to global warming as “bulls**t” and in 2013 he called it a "total hoax!"


But according to his application, which was first reported by Politico, when it comes to his personal business and finances, Donald Trump is just as firm a believer in global warming as he is convinced of the threat of immigrants and Muslims.

And when Donald Trump gets scared of something, he builds a wall.

If you know American history and understand the worldview upon which this nation has been founded, then the lack of consistency between Donald Trump's public statements on global warming and his personal responses to global warming are not the least bit surprising.

The following quote from Pope Nicholas V in the Papal Bull Dum Diversas written in 1452 has deeply shaped our nation. This Papal Bull, along with others written between 1452 and 1493 are collectively known as the Doctrine of Discovery. This doctrine helped create a worldview that placed white, European Christian males at the center and reduced most everything else in the natural world to mere assets for their exploitation and profit.
 “…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit”
In the worldview of the Doctrine of Discovery; water, land, plants, animals, even other humans are all considered to be resources that exist primarily to serve and benefit the dominant.

To Christopher Columbus -
Discoverer of America
It is this worldview of dehumanization which leads our educational system to still teach that Columbus discovered America. Because you CANNOT discover lands that are already inhabited. That action is more accurately known as stealing or conquering.

A worldview shaped by the Doctrine of Discovery is only able to acknowledge crisis like global warming when they threaten one’s bottom line or personal safety. The values of exploitation and profit are top priority, second only to the comfort and survival of the dominant.

My father is a wise native man who has lived between the four sacred mountains of our Navajo people nearly his entire life. Several years ago he was serving on a committee for a national, predominantly white, Christian organization that was looking at the issue of global warming and creation care. He told his fellow committee members that the reason this country has such a horrible record of caring for the environment is because they have a Doctrine of Discovery that skews and distorts their relationship to the natural world.

In Navajo we have a word, “hozho,” which translated means harmony or balance. Regularly, as my ancestors have done for centuries, I wake up early in the morning and greet the sunrise with my prayers. I pray for the day, relationships, community, and the environment. I strive to walk in beauty, with people, nature, and Creator.

Sunrise over the Navajo Nation
Watching the sunrise daily is a humbling experience that provides an amazing perspective. The sun rises, and it sets. There is nothing we can do to speed it up, or to slow it down. It happens whether we witness it or not. We cannot control it. Yet, all of life, is completely dependent upon it.

The Doctrine of Discovery is all about dominance. It’s about establishing a hierarchy for the purpose of taking and maintaining control. And it leads to an incredible arrogance, both towards nature and other people.

It was the worldview of the Doctrine of Discovery that led Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992 to develop the mantra “It's the economy, stupid”—campaigning to the lie that the health and well-being of a nation are purely the sum of its economic indicators.

And it is the Doctrine of Discovery that leads the presumptive nominee of the Republican party to call a devastating human crisis like global warming “bulls**t” and a “total hoax!”

That is, until the rising sea levels threaten the picturesque landscape on the 18th green on his luxury golf course.

For a nation based on the worldview of the Doctrine of Discovery it is not surprising that it took a real and practical threat to Donald Trump’s personal finances and investments to get him to acknowledge something that the worldwide scientific community concluded years ago. Global warming, left unaddressed, will cause a humanitarian crisis on a global scale.

And it is even less surprising that his response, after acknowledging global warming, was not to propose policies or programs to benefit and help humanity. But merely to protect his personal financial investments, with the building of another wall.

The worldview of the Doctrine of Discovery is not a partisan problem, it affects the very foundations of our nation, everything from our capitalism which is driven by profits, to SCOTUS basing the legal precedent for land titles on the principle of “discovery” and the dehumanization of Natives. Unfortunately, the values of the Doctrine of Discovery are just as American as baseball and apple pie.

And when you’re campaigning to be the next President of a colonial nation that is still blinded by a Doctrine of Discovery and comprised not only of immigrants, but also of more than 6 million indigenous people representing literally hundreds of tribes, it is imperative that you understand something.

“It’s about so much more than the economy, stupid.”



Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost - A Native perspective on Acts 2

The Pentecost story in Acts is a beautiful display of God's value for multi-culturalism and diversity. In Acts 2, God faced a challenge. His son had been crucified, was risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. And God wanted the world to know about it. At that time there were people from all over the known world in Jerusalem. The problem was, they all spoke different languages. If everyone was to hear the Good News the language problem needed to be solved. Now I assume, for the Creator of the Universe, performing one miracle is no more difficult than performing another miracle. So God literally had a choice to make. He could have either allowed everyone in Jerusalem to speak Greek or Hebrew, or he could allow his disciples to speak the languages of the nations. Either miracle would have solved the language problem. So we can assume that God made his choice based on the values he wanted to instill in this new body of believers.
Allowing all the people to understand Greek or Hebrew would have given birth to a single language, hierarchical and assimilated church. The Gospel would have clearly belonged to the group whose language God chose. And the Church would have been unified through their common language and soon to be assimilated culture. Language is one of the best tools to pass on, teach and even destroy culture. By picking a single language, culture and people, eventually the Church would have been fully assimilated to that group. So it is telling that God instead chose to allow the disciples to speak the languages of the nations. This choice had nearly the opposite effect. Instead of creating a single language, hierarchical and assimilated church, God instead planted a church where the Gospel belonged to everyone. There was no hierarchy. There was no chosen group. And no cultural assimilation was required or expected. When the people heard the good news in their own language the assumption was that this message was for them, their culture and their people. They could come to Christ as who they were. In fact, this message was so clear, that a little while later, when the Greek widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food they felt completely comfortable to point out the problem. Had the Gospel been shared with them in Hebrew, it would had been easier to assume that the Church was primarily for the Jews and everyone else was second class. It would have made sense why they were overlooked. They were second rate members in the cultural hierarchy of this new Hebrew church. But they weren't. They heard the message in their own language. They were full members of this body just as much as the next person. I praise God for Pentecost. Not only for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Bride of Christ. But I also praise God that he planted the Act 2 community in such a way that validated and gave ownership of the Gospel to people from every language, every culture, every tribe, and every people. The church was never meant to be an assimilated melting pot, where eventually everything and everyone blends together. The church was meant to be a mosaic. A vibrant colorful and diverse body where every member, every language, and every culture is necessary and adds to the beauty of the whole. Creator Ahe’hee’.

Mark Charles