Rethinking Native Americans

markcharlesFrom Corban College, Salem

Mark Charles, an advocate for legislative Native American rights, visited students and faculty. Charles challenged and encouraged students to rethink their preconceived notions toward Native Americans.

“We don’t know what justice looks like when everything we have access to is tarnished,” he said.

Additionally, he shared about U.S. historical relations with tribal members and commented the “Constitution is systemically racist.” Currently Charles is leading a project to host a public reading of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 3326) in front of the US Capitol in Washington DC.  He is doing so because this bill contains an “Apology to the native peoples of the United States” and was not publicized by the White House or by Congress.

Charles 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.

“The heart of our constitution is not a value for life but a value of exploitation and profit and a practice of dehumanization. Our constitution assumes that the dominant have the authority to decide who is and who is not human,” he said.

“Today, women earn 70 cents to the dollar. Why? The constitution’s working. Today, our jails are filled with people of color. Why? The constitution’s working.”

Charles spoke at two chapels, visited with five classrooms and sat down with students for two open-discussion luncheons in the dining hall.

Through multiple opportunities to speak with Charles, students were able to hear about structural issues which challenge their perceptions of historical America in a myriad of ways.

“I think we need to be able to know what actually is the truth about what did actually happen,” Katherine Garvin said.

Zalena Su’e had a similar response on the topic. “I believe that we, as Christians, should be more open-minded about the events in history that you and I may not be so familiar with — and don’t be afraid to change your mind,” she said. “I think a lot of Christians are so rooted in tradition that it becomes difficult to even think their perspective and/or culture isn’t the best of all.”

At the beginning of his lecture on Sept. 12, Charles asked Corban to observe a moment of silence for the Kalapuya people who lived on this land long before it was owned by a tuberculosis hospital or a theological seminary school.

“I found [it] a very respectful and fitting moment — it was a great emphasis on his point of the original inhabitants of the land,” Su’e said. “It was a powerful attention-grabber that was instantly sobering and forced you to listen.”

Charles intentionally returned to issues of incongruity between the nation’s desire for moral excellence and the nation’s legislative blindness.

“Loving does not just stop in the relational; it goes to all aspects,” Jonathan Griffes said, “especially when you start looking at changing the Constitution. For it to get to that point, it’s going to have to start with the relationship, with the communal.”

This method for mending a broken system is similar to Charles’ primary purpose in giving lectures.

“I am trying to call the church into a season of lament . . . We have a mess on our hands. Our nation is in trouble. You see this in the news everyday. We don’t know what to do about race . . . If the church wants to become the healing, prophetic, truth-speaking entity it was meant to be . . . we need to go into a season of lament,” he said.

In response to this invitation to lament, Su’e said, “I want for community to believe there is hope for the future when we acknowledge the mistakes of the past.”

Additionally, Professor Don Leavitt said, “Empathy is acknowledging someone else’s, or group’s, pain and anger while feeling for them as human beings, even, and maybe especially, when we don’t necessarily agree or understand them. I, as a ‘white male landowner,’ do not agree with or even understand much of the agenda racial groups currently fill our news with. Whether it is Black Lives Matter, immigration reform or the plight of the Native American, I can still show empathy and be willing to join in the conversation.”

Griffes said his prayer for our campus would include, “to be patient. [To not] make those knee-jerk reactions. . . To take time to be with our Creator, and let Him work with what has been presented, and then act upon it with the guidance of our Lord.”

Inclinations for wisdom and caution arise as the campus persists in processing the complexity of Charles’ subject.

Provost Matt Lucas said, “While I have not had the opportunity to talk with each of you, nor with all our students, I have had enough feedback to be encouraged by the conversations and to be glad I invited Mark Charles to come to campus.  What I have heard thus far are thoughtful, reflective and engaged responses by those who both agree and disagree with what he shared.  This is what should happen whenever we have someone come to campus (or for that matter whenever a perspective on a difficult or controversial topic is offered).  In short, we should be Bereans—evaluating what is said against Scripture and truth.”

– Nathan Smith, staff writer for Hilltop News 

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