Mark Charles, a Christian Reformed Church member of Native American and Dutch ancestry, has posted a new, YouTube video inviting people to join him and others for a public reading later this year of the “Apology to Native Peoples of the United States.”
In the fast-moving video, showing scenes of pastures and rolling hills intermixed with clips of urban life and featuring Native American chanting, Charles states that the reading will take place in front of the US Capitol building.
But the invitation — and a call for a new conversation with Native People — doesn’t come until the end of the video.
Charles states at the beginning of the video that the US apologized to the Native American people for taking their lands in a portion of the "2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill," which was passed on Dec. 19, 2009.
“The apology comes on page 43 of the 67-page bill,” Charles said in an interview. “I question why they decided to put the one-page apology to Native Americans in a Defense-spending bill.”
Given the low key, low-profile approach of inserting the apology into the Defense bill, the apology got very little publicity, making it seem as if the apology hardly ever happened, he said.
For that matter, it’s possible the apology — although necessary — didn’t come at the right time, said Charles, a resource development specialist for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin College.
“Maybe,” writes Charles in a caption at the start of the video, “an apology wasn’t the best way to begin this conversation.”
“A New Conversation” is, in fact, the title of the less-than-two-minute video in which Charles says that he is often asked how it feels to be a Native American and “still be a citizen of the United States of America.”
He answers this question by telling a story, comparing the Native People to an old grandmother who has a large and beautiful house.
But some people came years ago and took over the house, shutting the grandmother upstairs in a room and never taking the time to sit down and have a conversation with her.
Charles, a Navajo, tells the story as he strolls through the countryside and as footage shows city scenes of cars racing, a train rolling, the Hollywood sign in the hills of Los Angeles, and a flood of people walking along a street.
“It has been a dream and prayer of mine to be able to tell the story of the grandmother and make it publically available,” he said.
Charles made the video with the help of a videographer from the Christian Community Development Association at which Charles will be a speaker this fall.
The association has used footage from the video to promote the conference. Charles has posted it in its current form as a way “to take a complex issue and provide something thoughtful and provoking,” he said.
Looking ahead to December, he says he plans to ask several non-native people to read the apology in native languages as a way to truly reflect the manner in which a heart-felt apology should be offered.
“This event will not mark the end of this journey but rather the beginning. It is my hope that we can establish safe and honest common ground where a national conversation for reconciliation between Native America and the rest of our country can begin,” writes Charles on his website.
He ends the video with the story of the grandmother and then reminds people of the public reading of the apology later this year.
“Join us on December 19, 2012, in front of the US Capitol to start a new conversation,” Charles writes in a caption as the less-than-two-minute video finishes.
—Chris Meehan, CRC Communications