In observance of Columbus Day on October 9, 2017, 525 years after explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in North America, Native American liberal activist Mark Charles delivered a speech at Washington City Church of the Brethren in Washington, D.C. Once again he engaged in revisionism of American history.
During his speech, Charles criticized the annual statement released by the White House, in which President Trump praised the discovery of the Americas as a “remarkable and then-unparalleled feat… set the stage for the development of our great Nation.” However, Charles refuted that claim by repeatedly insisting that “you cannot discover lands already inhabited…that process is more accurately known as stealing.” Charles opposed the statement calling “upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities” and says that “these statements make it more apparent that our country needs to teach its history properly, we need to understand what happened and how this took place, we need to understand how we got to where we are today.”
Charles drew parallels between the history of the Christian Church in America and the early days of Christianity within the Roman Empire and what later became known as the Holy Roman Empire. He accused Saint Augustine of presenting his Just War theory and therefore “colluding with the Christian empire” in The City of God. From there, Charles went on to criticize the Catholic Church for its role in the Crusades and teaching that promoted the “Doctrine of Discovery,” the moral justification for European conquest of the New World, where unacknowledged genocide was committed. Therefore, he asserts that “the legacy of Discovery by Christopher Columbus is a racist doctrine and a fruit of Church that has prostituted itself with the Empire.”
Furthermore, Charles continues the narrative by alleging that this is at the “foundation of the United States itself,” referring the British Empire’s colonization in North America. He also highlighting what he viewed as the hypocrisy of how the Founding Fathers referred to as Native Americans as “merciless savages” right after declaring that “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence. Charles asserted that the founding document of our country were “a systemically racist” and totally bent on the “subjugation of indigenous peoples,” but ignored the various political and economic concerns on taxation the colonists had during the American Revolution.
Charles then criticized the U.S. Constitution. He asserted that the preamblem which starts with the words “we the people,” only applies to “white men, white land-owning men,” but failed to consider the profound nature of the document drafted and its historic context. “The purpose of the Constitution is to protect the interests of white men,” he said. He then shockingly added that “the Constitution is working” because women make less money than men and because more black people are imprisoned. “This should not shock us. The Constitution is doing exactly what it is designed to do!”
Charles advanced a twisted narrative that the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, arguing they never intended to correct the initial problem of racism or abolished slavery. To back this claim up, he cited figures on how racial minorities today live in worse conditions than white Americans. In doing so, Charles mentioned neither the Civil War nor the Civil Rights movement. He seems to imply that nothing in society has ever changed when he said: “to be clear, we have never evolved.” However, if there has been some change, he argues it’s only because progressives have fought hard against conservatives.
Charles then turned to his main argument. He pushed the narrative about how the U.S. committed genocide against Native Americans in the name of “Manifest Destiny” throughout the 19th Century. He cited various national sins including the Indian Removal Act and the subsequent “Trail of Tears” in which tens of thousands of Native Americans died. However, he never balanced out the broader history of how Native American tribes warred with one another or engaged in alliances with Europeans and Americans against their enemies.
Charles demanded a national apology to Native Americans by the U.S. government. He said this begins with the socio-cultural opposition to revise the history of the foundation of America, including the ongoing protest to the celebration of Columbus Day.
In conclusion, Charles reiterated that in reality “we don’t teach the history of America,” clarifying that “we teach the mythology, the mythology of America that is that we have a legacy of Discovery, that we believe in equality, that we have history of expansion and that liberty and justice is for everyone and that we are a Christian nation.”
On Columbus Day 2017, I gave a public lecture in Washington DC to provide a counter-narrative to the violent and dehumanizing history which President Trump commemorated in his 2017 Columbus Day Proclamation. He referred to the work of Christopher Columbus as a "remarkable and then-unparalleled feat…" that "…set the stage for the development of our great Nation."But you cannot discover lands already inhabited…that process is more accurately known as stealing.Mark Charles(Navajo)
Posted by Mark Charles on Monday, October 9, 2017