Fort Defiance, AZ – In Washington, DC, on December 19th at 11 am, the area in front of the US Capitol Building will become the stage for a national apology to Native Americans.
A diverse group of citizens, led by Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation, will host a public reading of the apology to native peoples of the United States, which is buried on page 45 of the 67 page-long 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326). This date marks the third anniversary of the passing of H.R. 3326, and the apology.
The generic, non-binding apology, found in subsection 8113, was inserted by Senator Brownback (R-KS), who is now the Governor of Kansas. This apology to native peoples on behalf of the citizens of the United States was not publicized by the White House or Congress at the time it was passed, nor has it been read publicly by President Obama.
When asked about what prompted him to initiate this public reading, Mark Charles said, “The wording of this apology and the way it was buried in an unrelated document were not appropriate or respectful ways to speak to the indigenous hosts of this land.” Additionally, he stated, “this apology has not been clearly communicated to Native American elders, many of whom personally endured the horrors of boarding schools, re-location, and disenfranchisement.”
The appropriations portion of this bill (pages 1–45) will be read by the Native Americans in attendance in an effort to respectfully, yet clearly, highlight the irony of burying such important and historic words in a Department of Defense Appropriations Act.
The apology portion of this Act (sub-section 8113) will be translated into several native languages. These translations will be read by some of the non-native people in attendance. This will serve as a reminder that when an apology is made it should be communicated as clearly and sincerely as possible to the intended audience.
The event will conclude with an opportunity for some of those in attendance, both native and non-native, to publically respond.
Charles plans to share a vivid analogy regarding his reflections on the conflict of being Navajo in a country that fought against and colonized his people:
Being Native American and living in the United States feels like our indigenous peoples are an old grandmother who lives in a very large house. It is a beautiful house with plenty of rooms and comfortable furniture. But, years ago, some people came into our house and locked us upstairs in the bedroom. Today, our house is full of people. They are sitting on our furniture. They are eating our food. They are having a party in our house. They have since unlocked the door to our bedroom but it is much later and we are tired, old, weak and sick; so we can't or don't come out. But the part that is the most hurtful and that causes us the most pain, is that virtually no one from this party ever comes upstairs and finds us in the bedroom, sits down next to us on the bed, takes our hand, and simply says, "Thank you. Thank you for letting us be in your house."
This will not mark the end of this journey but rather the beginning. It is the hope of the organizers that this event can establish safe and honest common ground where a national conversation for reconciliation between Native America and the rest of the country can begin.
About Mark Charles:
Mark Charles is a consultant, speaker and blogger who frequently travels throughout the United States and the world, engaging with Native Americans and other indigenous communities. He advocates for their rights and seeks ways to establish their voice within religious, educational and government institutions. His website is www.wirelesshogan.com and a video promoting this event can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE7149KdZOk.