On December 19, 2012 I had the privilege of hosting a Public Reading of the Apology to Native Peoples of the United States in front of the US Capitol in Washington DC. This apology was buried in H.R. 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. It was signed by President Obama on Dec. 19, 2009 but was never announced, publicized or read publically by either the White House or the 111th Congress.
It was an honor to stand in front of our Nation's Capitol, with a diverse group of citizens, and communicate the "Apology to Native Peoples of the United States" to our elders, to Native communities and, to all US citizens throughout the United States. I am DEEPLY grateful to everyone to supported and encouraged this event and especially to those who were able to attend and stand with me in person. Ahe'hee.
They say a "watched pot never boils." But that's not entirely true. Of course a watched pot boils, it's just that intently watching a pot of water reach 212 degrees F is not an incredibly exciting way to spend your time. And so most people get bored or distracted and end up leaving before it ever reaches the boiling point.
The problem with systemic racism is that it is like a heat source that keeps a pot of water simmering at a constant 211 degrees. Extremely hot, but not quite boiling. Every once in a while the heat gets turned up just a tad...
Not just Americans, but the entire globe.
People know that the founders didn't mean it then, nor does this nation of immigrants mean it now. Sure the words were written down, and they like to frequently point to them as evidence that we are good. But no one really meant them. They were merely a means to an end.
Back in 1776 when representatives from a bunch of colonies wrote the words "We declare these truth to be self-evident that all men are created equal." They did not literally mean ALL men.
But people know that.
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."
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.
Over the meal, even though the seating is open, the tables are mostly segregated and the room is unusually quiet. Food is eaten, napkins are folded, the garbage is dumped, as everyone solemnly returns to the room where more stories of a similar nature are shared.
This process is repeated the next day, and the next. Some of the voices are angry, some are broken, some are resentful, but a few are hopeful....
A few months ago I proposed an ideas for holding a series of "Truth Commision" type conferences throughout the nation beginning with the first one in Washington DC in December of 2016. If you would like to sign up for our email list for the latest news and information on this proposal, please sign up here.
November 14, 2014:
Presentation begins at the 21:45 minute mark.
Columbus Day Chapel at Northwestern College - The Doctrine of Discovery
Presentation begins at the 21:45 minute mark
Blog posts about Navajo Culture and Language
A Laughing Party - The first time a Navajo baby laughs, the family throws a party. The person who made the baby laugh provides the food.
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