Mark Charles is a speaker, writer, and consultant from Fort Defiance, Ariz., located on the Navajo Reservation. The son of an American woman of Dutch heritage and a Navajo man, Mark seeks to understand the complexities of American history regarding race, culture, and faith in order to help forge a path of healing and reconciliation for the nation. He partners with numerous organizations to assist them in respectfully approaching, including, and working with native communities.
Mark consults as a resource development specialist for Indigenous worship through Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He is the primary investigator in a study conducted by Brigham Young University on the Navajo perception of time. Mark serves as a board member for Christian Community Development Association and the Christian Reformed Church of North America. He developed and coordinates the Global Discipleship Network project through Christian Reformed World Missions.
Mark served as pastor of the Christian Indian Center (Denver, Colo.) for two years and continues to preach in churches. He also engages communities and the nation on political issues in order to strengthen a national political voice for Native America (e.g. immigration reform and creating a 51st virtual Native American state).
Articles By This Author
Whose Fourth of July?
The other day I was eating dinner with my wife in a restaurant in Gallup, N.M., a border town to the Navajo reservation. Gallup was recently named the "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 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."
A Day of Lament ...
I lament with every person and community, throughout the history of this nation, who, due to the color of his or her skin, had to endure marginalization, silence, discrimination, beatings, lynching, cultural genocide, boarding schools, internment camps, mass incarceration, broken treaties, stolen lands, murder, slavery, and discovery.
The Problem With Systemic Racism...
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 Fahrenheit 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.
Systemic racism 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—like when a frightened white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shoots a young unarmed black man while his hands are in the air. Or a group of ignorant, overzealous college students from Oklahoma State University create a banner for a football game that makes light of an act of genocide committed against Native Americans by the United States government.
And then the water starts to boil.
Protests are organized. Twitter goes ablaze. Op-eds are written. Civil rights leaders are given the microphone.
And the temperature is brought back down to 211 degrees.
'...That All Men Are Created Equal'
Not just Americans, but the entire globe.
People know that the founders didn't mean it then, nor does this nation mean it now. Sure, the words were written down, and our leaders 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 hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," they did not in fact mean all men.
But people know that.
Introducing 5 Small Loaves
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the Bible, there is a story of when Jesus was teaching a large crowd. At the conclusion 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 eight 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 five small loaves and two 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 afterward 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 five small loaves and two 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.
The other day I observed a Twitter exchange between Pope Francis and Miroslav Volf.
Pope Francis (@Pontifex) Tweeted:
“God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe.”
To which Miroslav Volf (@MiroslavVolf) replied:
“@Pontifex How true! And yet the babe grew and taught with power and authority, and the crucified one was raised from the dead in glory.”
Since moving to the Navajo reservation more than a decade ago, I have done much thinking, studying, praying, and reflecting on the dynamics between power and authority. And God has given me a few insights over the years. So when I read these tweets I had an instant desire to jump in and be a part of the discussion.
Richard Twiss Allowed Himself to be a Lightning Rod
It was one week ago that I received the email I had been dreading. On Feb. 6, 2013, while in Washington, D.C., for the National Prayer Breakfast, Richard Twiss suffered a major heart attack. He remained in a hospital in the D.C. area for several days as friends and family rushed to his side. But on Feb. 9, at the age of 58, Taoyate Obnajin, he Stands with his People, crossed over to meet the Creator. He is survived by his wife Katherine and his four sons Andrew, Philip, Ian, and Daniel.
If you ever had the privilege of meeting Richard Twiss, chances are he invited you somewhere. Richard was an incredible host. I remember last summer I attended a symposium for the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, of which Richard was a board member. No sooner had I walked through the door when I was greeted by Richard and asked if I would like to join their drum circle up front to start the next session. I felt extremely honored by this invitation and gladly accepted. I am not a trained theologian nor am I a prolific powwow drummer, but this small gesture immediately made me feel at home and communicated that I was welcome there and was given a voice should I have something to contribute.
Richard was involved in many conversations. As a follower of Jesus, president and co-founder of Wi
A Conversation for Reconciliation
Reconciliation is never easy, which is why it doesn't happen very often. Reconciliation is not something that can be checked off of a list. It is not a single event encapsulated in a moment of time. Reconciliation begins with a conversation and ends with a relationship restored.
It was the morning of Dec. 19, and I was standing in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. I had reserved that space months in advance so I could host a public reading of H.R. 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. I did this because page 45 of this 67-page document contained an "apology to native peoples of the United States." In three years this apology had not been announced, publicized, or read by either the White House or the 111th Congress.
My (Native) Vote
My early voting ballot is almost complete. I have done my reading, finished my research, and ignored a sufficient amount of robo-calls and attack ads. I have made my choices for county school superintendent, state representatives, and even U.S. Senator. But there is a gaping hole at the top of my ballot ...
It is November 6, 2012, and after more than a year of carefully following the presidential campaigns I still do not know which candidate I am going to vote for. I am an independent voter but registered as a democrat. On my Facebook page I identify my political position as "a morally-conservative Democrat or a fiscally-irresponsible Republican."
A More Perfect Union
If I had to translate her words into Navajo, I would say “ádin.” Ádin means nothing, none, zero.
I couldn't believe my ears. I was visiting Iowa in the first week of January during an election year. Presidential candidates were crisscrossing the state — kissing babies, shaking hands, and pleading for the vote of everyone they met. Campaign events were taking place in high school gymnasiums, community centers, and local businesses throughout the state. Many of the people I met had personal stories of meeting one of the candidates, shaking their hands, and talking about their issues. There are 99 counties in the state of Iowa, and a few of the candidates were taking the time to stop and hold campaign events in each and every one of them. But there I was, just a day before the caucuses, standing in the community center and tribal offices of the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama, Iowa, with the tribe’s executive director telling me that not a single presidential candidate had held a campaign event in their community.
I shouldn't have been surprised. After all I live on the Navajo Reservation. Our reserve is nearly 26,000 square miles with about 300,000 enrolled tribal members, and I cannot recall in my lifetime a presidential candidate visiting our reservation and campaigning directly to our people.
- 1 of 2