Native American speaker calls for reconciliation between nation and tribes

Native American speaker calls for reconciliation between nation and tribes

Mark Charles is a speaker, writer, consultant and correspondent for Native News Online.

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As racial protests continue to spread across the United States, Lee University hosted a discussion on systemic American flaws pertaining to Native American issues.

On Oct. 4, Lee University invited Mark Charles, a Navajo man and Washington D.C. correspondent for Native News Online, to speak at one of the university’s many roundtable discussions—the title of the evening: Race, Trauma, and the Doctrine of Discovery.

“I am trying to initiate a dialogue. I think we need something of a national dialogue on race, gender and class,” Charles said.

Charles argued that racial reconciliation “is a misnomer because it is inaccurate. … We don’t need a reconciliation commission, but a conciliation commission.”

During his lecture, Charles recounted the origins of colonial America and the “false idea of American Exceptionalism.”

“In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’” Charles said. “This entitled the Church of Europe to whatever land they could find that is not owned by European Christians. The Doctrine of Discovery is the fruit of a church that has prostituted itself to the Empire.”

Even America’s founding documents, according to Charles, breed this Doctrine of Discovery. “The Declaration of Independence is a fundamentally racist document as it considers the indigenous peoples to be ‘merciless Indian savages,’” Charles said.

Grace Anne Cochrane, a freshman and Native American student here at Lee University, shared her thoughts on America’s early history. “The entire concept of what Americans did to the Native Americans when we were becoming a country is not taught. America is great, but it is founded on genocide,” Cochrane said. “That’s something that is not talked about in school at all.”

Charles concluded his brief history of America with the reminder “that this land wasn’t discovered—it was already inhabited.”

Mark Charles transitioned the evening’s discussion onto the topic of trauma. “I don’t try to convince white Americans that they too are traumatized,” Charles said. “I’m trying to convince people of color that the white Americans are traumatized.”

Charles elaborated on the science behind post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma conditions. “When a person of trauma is triggered, you don’t glaze over the issue, you use it to find the core,” Charles said. “The myth of American Exceptionalism is a coping mechanism for a nation in deep denial of its genocidal past and its current racist reality.”

This trauma, according to Charles, is what causes public lashing out like in the case of Representative Clay Higgins. On June 5, Higgins, a first-term congressman representing the third congressional district of Louisiana, posted anti-Muslim slurs on Facebook. He wrote, “Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt [radicalized Muslims] down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

According to Cochrane, it is in bursts of emotion like these that discussions need to happen. “I hope there is a dialogue about Native American struggles and not just about the black community.”

So what is the national solution?

According to Charles, the issue lies in our lack of lamenting. “It’s difficult to lament when you believe in your own exceptionalism. The problem is that we don’t lament long enough for God to come and deal with us—to show up.”

Emphasizing the communal aspect to lamenting, 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.”

What can Lee University do about it?

Cochrane offers a solution: “I haven’t had any bad experiences with racism, especially not at Lee. But I do feel like I really don’t fit in anywhere racially because we have African Clubs and Asian Council, but there isn’t really anything for ‘brown people.’” 

“I think that creating a space for Native Americans to come together is really important,” Cochrane said. “I think forming a club would be helpful.”

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