Mark Charles, speaker, writer, and consultant from Fort Defiance, Arizona, spoke today at my college in our celebration of Native American Heritage Month on 500 Years of Injustice, A Silent Apology, and A Hollow Worship. Can I just say it was one amazing discussion.
Charles began with what he called “a tree that fell in the forest”—a silent apology given to Native Americans from the United States government. This apology was given in December 2009 buried on page 45 of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326). An apology is something a person or in this case an ethnic group should be aware of, listen to, and accept. This apology was never read or announced by the government. It is such a shame.
Below, you can read the apology:
To acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.
Whereas the ancestors of today’s Native Peoples inhabited the land of the present-day United States since time immemorial and for thousands of years before the arrival of people of European descent;
Whereas for millennia, Native Peoples have honored, protected, and stewarded this land we cherish;
Whereas Native Peoples are spiritual people with a deep and abiding belief in the Creator, and for millennia Native Peoples have maintained a powerful spiritual connection to this land, as evidenced by their customs and legends;
Whereas the arrival of Europeans in North America opened a new chapter in the history of Native Peoples;
Whereas while establishment of permanent European settlements in North America did stir conflict with nearby Indian tribes, peaceful and mutually beneficial interactions also took place;
Whereas the foundational English settlements in Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, owed their survival in large measure to the compassion and aid of Native Peoples in the vicinities of the settlements;
Whereas in the infancy of the United States, the founders of the Republic expressed their desire for a just relationship with the Indian tribes, as evidenced by the Northwest Ordinance enacted by Congress in 1787, which begins with the phrase, `The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians';
Whereas Indian tribes provided great assistance to the fledgling Republic as it strengthened and grew, including invaluable help to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their epic journey from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Coast;
Whereas Native Peoples and non-Native settlers engaged in numerous armed conflicts in which unfortunately, both took innocent lives, including those of women and children;
Whereas the Federal Government violated many of the treaties ratified by Congress and other diplomatic agreements with Indian tribes;
Whereas the United States forced Indian tribes and their citizens to move away from their traditional homelands and onto federally established and controlled reservations, in accordance with such Acts as the Act of May 28, 1830 (4 Stat. 411, chapter 148) (commonly known as the `Indian Removal Act’);
Whereas many Native Peoples suffered and perished–
(1) during the execution of the official Federal Government policy of forced removal, including the infamous Trail of Tears and Long Walk;
(2) during bloody armed confrontations and massacres, such as the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 and the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890; and
(3) on numerous Indian reservations;
Whereas the Federal Government condemned the traditions, beliefs, and customs of Native Peoples and endeavored to assimilate them by such policies as the redistribution of land under the Act of February 8, 1887 (25 U.S.C. 331; 24 Stat. 388, chapter 119) (commonly known as the `General Allotment Act’), and the forcible removal of Native children from their families to faraway boarding schools where their Native practices and languages were degraded and forbidden;
Whereas officials of the Federal Government and private United States citizens harmed Native Peoples by the unlawful acquisition of recognized tribal land and the theft of tribal resources and assets from recognized tribal land;
Whereas the policies of the Federal Government toward Indian tribes and the breaking of covenants with Indian tribes have contributed to the severe social ills and economic troubles in many Native communities today;
Whereas despite the wrongs committed against Native Peoples by the United States, Native Peoples have remained committed to the protection of this great land, as evidenced by the fact that, on a per capita basis, more Native Peoples have served in the United States Armed Forces and placed themselves in harm’s way in defense of the United States in every major military conflict than any other ethnic group;
Whereas Indian tribes have actively influenced the public life of the United States by continued cooperation with Congress and the Department of the Interior, through the involvement of Native individuals in official Federal Government positions, and by leadership of their own sovereign Indian tribes;
Whereas Indian tribes are resilient and determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their unique cultural identities;
Whereas the National Museum of the American Indian was established within the Smithsonian Institution as a living memorial to Native Peoples and their traditions; and
Whereas Native Peoples are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. RESOLUTION OF APOLOGY TO NATIVE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED STATES.
(a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress–
(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;
(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;
(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;
(4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;
(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;
(6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and
(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.
(b) Disclaimer- Nothing in this Joint Resolution–
(1) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or
(2) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”
What a silent and broken apology.
Charles later spoke about worship and quoted Genesis 2, 2 Samuel 6, and Revelations 7:9, discussing creation, David worshipping as the Ark of the Covenant arrived in his city, and the worship of people from every tribe, every nation singing praises to God. Worship was a prominent theme.
Then the audience was given a history lesson—three Native American perspectives on American history. Charles began with the Declaration of Independence. You know the right to life, liberty, and the pursue of happiness. He questions our “just’” foundation. A foundation found upon freedom for white men not women, blacks, and definitely not Native Americans.
My favorite statement by Charles is when he said,
The best part about the Constitution is that it can be amended.”
The second discovery Charles acknowledges is Columbus’ discovery of America. He gave the audience such a difference perspective by telling us to take out a $20. He then calls for the rest of us to go and discover the $20 claiming it as ours. We all had a laugh at it, but the truth in the one example was enough for Charles to get his point across. The third example explored “My Country Tis of Thee” and the idea of Manifest Destiny.
(Watch the video above) Charles then digs into the analogy of America as your grandmother’s house, a house in which people claim to discover, locking her up in the attic, and finally allow you to come down. What happens when they tell your grandmother thank you? Does she say you’re welcome, get out, or pay me? Charles calls for Native Americans to adopt this nation, teaching us how to live in the land. He then calls for Christians to fast from worship, a gift(worship) from God that we freely abuse. Charles notes in order for us to worship we must live justly, walk humbly, and seek reconciliation; therefore, we must fast from worship in order to properly learn how to worship. If the church did this and we constantly reminded ourselves how to live justly, walk humbly, and seek reconciliation, the world would be indescribable.
At the close, I sat with many questions going through my mind, the most pressing concerned how African Americans can help Native Americans or how am I suppose to feel giving the history of my people within this nation. I also wanted to learn Charles thoughts on the Redskins issue and the commercialization of Native American names. His response was that most Native Americans are more concern about acquiring jobs and other basic necessities of life. Why focus on this when there are other deeper issues that need to be resolved. Will changing the name of the Redskins directly help the daily lives of those living on reservations? Will a settlement help solve all the problems within the Native American community? It made me think of issues within the African American community. Why are we continuing to remain silent on issues that directly affect us? It only begs me to question our priorities, our failures, our accomplishments, and better yet, our future. How can we find our story within Native American history? How can we work together for a change?
Until the next post.