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 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.”
I am officially announcing the planning of a “Common Memory” Conference, to be held in Washington DC. We have not decided on a final date yet but are looking closely at the fall of 2016. This conference will be similar to the Truth Commission conference described above, minus the official title of “Commission.” If successful, it is our hope that this will be the first in a series of conferences that will become a foundation, not only for a Truth Commission, but for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Last week I visited the National Archives in Washington DC and personally viewed the original document of the Declaration of Independence. Did you know that 30 lines below the famous quote “All men are created equal” the founders of this nation referred to Native Americans as “merciless Indian Savages?”
This dichotomy highlights the bi-polar character of the United States of America. We are a nation that built its reputation on freedom and claims to stand for “liberty and justice for all.” But our foundations are clearly based on the dehumanization of others. And rather than acknowledging this, we have instead chosen to cling to a narrative of exceptionalism, a myth of manifest destiny and the lie of promised lands. [Continue Reading]
Ya’at’eeh. I recently changed the financial goal of our Crowd Funding Campaign from $170K to $500K. That is quite a big jump, and I thought it would be good to share with you why I raised it. For the past decade, we have been living on the Navajo reservation, and I have been writing and speaking about issues of social justice for Native Americans. However, the primary voice I have been communicating with has been one of lament and critique. And I think that was very important for a time. For I was going through a period of lament and critique myself. However, my goal has always been to grow into a position of leadership on these issues. In my recent article, “The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair” that was what I started to do – transition my voice from one of lament and critique to one of vision and leadership. [Continue Reading]
Picture a chair, an empty chair. There are dozens, even hundreds, of them sitting on the stage behind the podium. At the microphone is a Native American elder. Hurting, trembling, shaking, but standing. Full of resolve. Sharing a story of the horrors of the abuse, neglect and trauma, experienced as a young child at an Indian boarding school. In front of this elder are hundreds, even thousands, of people. Native Americans, with their heads bowed in grief, sorrow, even panic, as their own memories of similar stories are triggered. African Americans, sitting silently, staring at the ground, as they recall stories of the trauma their ancestors endured as slaves, the free labor force of an emerging nations. Americans of European descent, sitting uncomfortably, even squirming. Their eyes are wide open and their hearts are pounding as they hear stories of a history they had spent a lifetime denying existed…
Recent events, such as the shooting in Ferguson, MO and the “Trail of Tears” banner displayed at an OSU football game, have demonstrated how much ground our nation has yet to cover in the area of race relations.
Race, diversity and reconciliation is where 5 Small Loaves strives to be a source of education and dialogue, helping our nation and the church as they attempt to move towards restored relationships and communities. We also seek to expand the dialogue beyond the traditional “black and white” struggle that tends to dominate the attention of both the media and the nation. Our vision statement states that we are pursuing racial reconciliation through honest education, intentional conversation, and meaningful action. [Continue Reading]
Near our house, there is a mission compound that was established over 100 years ago. They set up many large buildings for various functions, a hospital, church, dormitory, etc. The outside denomination has carried on the leadership of the church and the compound ever since then, but now 100 years later they want the local Navajo congregation to assume the leadership of the church and responsibility of the cost and operation of these old buildings. But the church membership is small and struggling even after 100 years of outside help pouring in. The dilapidated buildings are burdensome and challenging on this small congregation, and these buildings do not reflect the culture that surrounds them. [Continue reading…]
Over the years I have learned that the topic of the history of injustice and racism, from both the church and the United States of America, against Native Americans is a difficult history for people to swallow and digest. By and large, people don’t know how to talk about it, nor do they want to talk about it. It is a dark history. One that demonstrates that at a foundational level our nation is incredibly unjust and systemically racist. Because this history is so uncomfortable, people want to deny it, gloss over it, or offer some symbolic words of apology and quickly move past it. But none of those options provides any real healing or deep reconciliation.
One of the projects that 5 Small Loaves is involved with is the planning of a Native American Student Conference called “Would Jesus Eat Frybread?” (WJEF?) This is a conference that is primarily for the Native Student ministries of CRU (formally Campus Crusade) and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. We have hosted this conference twice so far. The first WJEF? was located near my home on the Navajo Reservation and the second one was held on the Yakama Reservation in Washington state. One event that is quickly becoming a tradition a WJEF? is the hosting of a feast with the local community and featuring foods from the local tribes… [continue reading]
The United States of America is a nation that desperately needs to be adopted…As indigenous peoples of this land, Native Americans are one of the few populations left in the world who are able to speak with authority to the United States of America. But we cannot do that if we are their victims. We cannot do that by suing them in their courts. And we cannot do that by collecting reparations for their injustices. Instead, we must rise above that way of thinking and adopt this nation of immigrants. Sharing our stories, our families and our histories with our uninvited guests… [Continue Reading]
Ya’at’eeh my friends. I (Mark Charles) wanted to give you a short update on the latest happenings for 5 Small Loaves. Last week, in Washington DC, I presented at a conference for Sojourners called the Summit for Change. This was a gathering of about 300 Christian leaders from around the country to dialogue about national issues of social justice. We discussed topics like Women in leadership, Mass incarceration, implicit bias and immigration reform. I spoke in a panel on the topic of Implicit Bias and had 3 minutes to educate people regarding the Doctrine of Discovery… [Continue Reading]
Do you know who you are serving? I live in a community on the Navajo reservation that is a frequent site for short-term American missions. And while I don’t deny that this is a place that needs the power of the Holy Spirit to bring healing and growth, I do really long for the people here to be presented with the gospel in a manner that empowers and encourages them. And unfortunately, that is not what I observe. [Continue Reading]
Last week I had the privilege of attending the 11th annual Symposium of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS) at George Fox University near Portland OR. This is the third time I have attended a NAIITS Symposium and while I do not consider myself an academic, I have to admit I really do enjoy hanging out with a bunch of Natives and discussing Christian theology from a Native worldview perspective. The topic this year was “Indigenous Reality: Moving Beyond Colonial and Post-Colonial Conversations.” [Continue Reading]
In Mark 6, Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs to preach, cast out demons, and heal. He also told them to take nothing. No bag, no bread, no money, no extra clothes or shoes. They were to depend completely on God and the people they were going to for housing and food. By contrast, the most typical model coming from American churches is to teach, build, or give something away. Large teams carefully plan out an agenda ahead of time. They are fully funded and provide everything for themselves. Therefore, they need nothing from the people they are going to. [Continue Reading]
Last week I was on a conference call with some colleagues from a Christian organization that I partner with. We were discussing an educational project we are working on regarding the long history of injustice against Native Americans by the United States government and the Christian church. During the discussion it became clear that some conversations needed to be facilitated with some native leaders in the area where I live on the Navajo reservation and then a face to face meeting would be necessary with other members of our team. I offered both to facilitate these conversations as well as to fly to the city where our face to face meetings would be held. The organization offered to cover the cost of my airline ticket, but asked, with some trepidation, if they would also be responsible to compensate me for my time as a consultant. I quickly assured them that I normally do not charge for work on projects such as these. [Continue Reading]
Pentecost Sunday is an incredible affirmation of God’s desire for diversity. Early in the books of Acts Jesus had just been raised from the dead and ascended into Heaven. God wanted all of the world to know about his son. And in Acts chapter 2 we are told that staying in Jerusalem at that time there were Jews from every nation under Heaven. But the problem was that they all had different heart languages. God needed to do a miracle. And he had a choice. He could either allow everyone to speak Greek or Hebrew or he could allow his disciples to speak the languages of the nation. The prior would establish a unified and assimilated language for his church right from the very beginning. And the latter would affirm the unique cultures and languages of everyone who heard the message and give them all equal ownership of this Gospel. Continue Reading
I have been living on the Navajo reservation for a decade now. My family moved here to become learners of my husband’s Navajo culture and to see how God wanted to lead us. As we have lived and learned about this culture, I have also been observing the many outsiders that come here, the tourists and the mission teams. I observe because I also am an outsider myself and I understand my American culture. I also observe because living on the Navajo reservation has changed me. I have been intertwined into a foreign culture that must constantly interact with the dominant American culture. Unjust history and vast cultural differences cannot be simply swept under the rug of assimilation; it is too complex. And so I have watched, and now I want to speak to those who are coming. But in particular, I want to speak to my brothers and sisters in the churches and on the mission teams. In my observations of the current model of American missions, I find a striking contrast to the model that Jesus laid out in the gospels. Our methods look nothing like his. And the more I observe modern missions in action, the more I see the wisdom to Jesus’ model. Continue Reading
In the Bible, there is a story of when Jesus was teaching a large crowd. At the conclusion of his teaching his disciples observed that it was late in the day, they were in a lonely place and the people were hungry with no food to eat. Jesus responded by telling them, “You feed them.” The disciples immediately panicked and pointed out that doing so would be massively expensive, costing up to 8 months of a man’s wages. They also implied that they did not have enough money to make even a dent in that need. Undeterred, Jesus asked them what they did have. They went out and returned with a young boy who was willing to share his 5 small loaves and 2 little fish. Jesus took it, looked up to heaven, and GAVE THANKS! Then he just started passing out the food. And not only did more than 5,000 people eat to their heart’s content, but afterwards the disciples picked up 12 baskets full of leftovers! (See Mark 6:30-44 and John 6:1-15) Did you ever stop to wonder how the young boy who gave his lunch to Jesus felt? Can you imagine the exhilaration he must have had watching his 5 small loaves and 2 little fish feed a crowd of well over 5,000 people? I bet he went home and told that story over and over and over again. He probably felt like, as long as he was with Jesus, anything was possible. One young boy who was willing to share his simple lunch was all Jesus needed to meet the overwhelming needs of a very hungry crowd. Continue Reading