Stanislas Berteloot 0:01
I have recorded my first interview with Mark Charles on May 22 three days before the murder of George Floyd. Since then, protests across the nation have forced white Americans to confront the darker, racist history of this nation. I called back mark to ask him how he felt when he first saw the video of the arrest and of the death of the Black man.
Mark Charles 0:28
Wednesday morning, I forced myself to watch the entire video of the murder of George Floyd. And it was painful. It was gut-wrenching.
Not only did you have a white police officer over this black man holding his knee on his neck as a black man was crying out, just to be able to breathe. But there are other people black people women watching this pleading with the officer to take his knee off to let them intervene to check his pulse to come in. He was keeping them at bay with mace, threatening to mace them. And there was another officer standing guard keeping them on the sidewalk. And in the midst of this one of the women who were there, she wasn’t on camera, but you could hear her voice and she said something to the effect of how do you call the cops on the cops. And that’s the challenge people of color face in this nation is our country believes that it has these institutions white America remembers that there are institutions that have been established to protect them. The police forces, the government, even the military, and people of color, have the lived experiences that throughout history these institutions have been used to oppress them, enslave them and even kill them. And once you realize that once you see that and you see the injustice happening right in front of you, it’s what do you do? Where do you turn? Who do you cry out to? How do you call the cops on the cop?
And so, what hit me very strong. I saw that video. I lamented it for 24 hours. I couldn’t even speak publicly about it. And what it reminded me of emotionally was the 11 years I spent living on the Navajo Nation where I watched these types of things happen to my own people.
In his last state of the union, President Obama was acknowledging the deep divisiveness that existed throughout his presidency, the opposition he faced at every turn. And he was lamenting that and talking about the need for our nation to build a new politics. And he quoted the constitution he said We the People. Our constitution begins with these three simple words. Words we’ve come to recognize me and all the people. That sounds beautiful, even inspiring. He got a lot of applause for that line. But as I sat in my house listening to him, I asked myself I said, when when did we decide we the people means all the people the founding fathers absolutely did not believe we the people met all the people. Abraham Lincoln did not believe were the people meant all the people. As good as the civil rights movement was it did not get us to be the people meaning all the people present Trump does not believe we the people means all the people.
This is the problem.
We’ve never decided collectively as a nation. That we want to be a place where We The People, includes everybody.
Barak Obama 4:06
If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life.
Welcome to back in America, the podcast.
Stanislas Berteloot 4:32
I am Stan Berteloot and this is back in America, the podcast where I explore Americans’ identity, culture, and values.
My guest today is a candidate running as an independent for President of the United States. A man who’s not white, not black, but a dual citizen of the United State and the Navajo Nation. For three years. He lived with his family in a one-room hogan with no running water or electricity out in a Navajo reservation. He dreams of a nation where We The People truly means all the people. Yet as we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, he reminds us of the ethnic cleansing and genocide the United State carried against the indigenous people of this land.
Mark Charles 5:26
Thank you, Stan, it’s very good to be with you please let me introduce (…) When we introduce ourselves, we always give our four clans we’re matrilineal as a people with our identities coming from our mother’s mother. Now my mother’s mother’s American of Dutch heritage and that’s why I say Simba kid dinner. Loosely translated that means I’m from the wooden shoe people. My second clan, my father’s mother is told him blini which is the waters that float together. My third clan, my mother’s father is also syndicate. And then my fourth time my father’s father’s to the cine, which is the bitter water clan. It’s one of the original clans were Navajo people. I just want to acknowledge as well that I’m speaking to you today from the traditional lands of the discard away. I live in what’s now known as Washington DC, but it was the Piscataway who lived in these lands, they hunted here, they fished here, they farmed here, they raised their families here, they bury their dead here. These were their lands long before Columbus got lost at sea. And I want to acknowledge the people whose land them out of where I go around the country. And so I honored today that Piscataway. I also want to honor that you’re speaking to me from Princeton, New Jersey, which is the traditional end of the Lenape. And I also honor though the not pay as the indigenous hosts of the land where you are conducting this interview from, but it’s great to be on the on the show with you. So thank you for having me.
Stanislas Berteloot 6:57
Thank you for making time for me today, Mark.
So, let me start with a burning question I have got. Is this country ready for Native American president?
Mark Charles 7:12
I understand why you would ask that question. I would actually say that that question is coming from the wrong perspective. What that question does is it it centers white land-owning men. And the challenge we face in this nation is the entire nation was founded on founded for even founded by white landowning men. So our Declaration of Independence, which says all men are created equal, refers to natives as savages. Our constitution which starts with We the People, first of all, never mentioned to women, it specifically excludes natives when it comes to African, just three-fifths of a person which in 1787, that literally left white men and it was white men who could vote. And so the nation which claims to be about equality, freedom and liberty and justice, was actually defined very narrowly.
For white landowning men, and that demographic has controlled the narrative and placed themselves at the center of both politics, economics, social life, everything in this country. And so when you ask, is America ready for a native president? The question that is really being asked, Is, are white landowning men ready to have a Native American president? I don’t know the answer to that question. That’s one reason why I’m running.
It’s also one of the reasons why my campaign is trying to decenter whiteness. Now, I firmly believe that the marginalized groups within our country, women, African Americans, Native Americans, LGBTQ, other people who are not part of that center demographic.
I think there is a very big openness to having knowledge as someone who’s native, but also someone who’s African American, someone who’s a woman, someone who’s a member of the LGBTQ community, outside of the center, which is the white landowning male, the rest of the country, I think is definitely ready for a much more diverse knowledge pool of candidates, but even actual presidents. The question is, are white men ready? And technically, I’m not convinced they are. But that does not prevent me from running. And it actually helps me frame my campaign, which is literally about decentering whiteness.
Stanislas Berteloot 9:34
Thank you. Thank you. And we’ll definitely come back to that. Before we do, however, in order to better understand who you are and what where you come from. I would love you to take me back to your early days. Where did you grow up? Talk to me about your parents, your siblings.
Mark Charles 9:53
Yeah, so I grew up in the southwest of the United States, right near a border town. To the Navajo Nation, a small town known as Gallup, New Mexico. This is the area in the United States that in 1862, was ethnically cleansed by Abraham Lincoln. So, after signing the Pacific Railway act in 1862, he literally began very systematically ethnically cleansing native tribes from the states of Minnesota, Colorado and the territory of New Mexico to make way for some of the early routes of the transcontinental railway.
And one of those routes went through the Southwest, which was right where are Navajo, the Mescalero, Apache and other problems were. And so in 1863 1864, they began the ethnic cleansing and genocidal policy known as The Long Walk, where they literally burned our villages, burned our homes, destroyed our crops, killed our livestock, and hunted our people rounded us out and moved us down to a reservation established by Abraham Lincoln Near busca donde. it, they called it a reservation technically was a death camp.
Over 10th of almost 10,000 people were marched down there. nearly a quarter of our people died while in prison there. And then after we came back after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. We were moved to a much smaller plot of land north of what was to become Gallup.
So I grew up in that area, off of the reservation right near the sporter town in a mission compound that was started by the Christian Reformed Church in the early 1900s.
They actually came to the southwest to establish a mission, and they very early on after they arrived, started a boarding school. Again, the role of the boarding schools was to commit cultural genocide to forcibly assimilate natives the status goal of the boarding schools used by the government and the churches was to kill the Indian save the man. And so young children, Native children were taken from their homes put in these military-style boarding schools, punished for speaking their languages punished for practicing their culture. On the stories of abuse that I’ve heard, mental, physical, emotional, sexual, that happened in these boarding schools is gut-wrenching.
And so I my grandparents on my father’s side, my Navajo grandparents were both boarding school survivors. And they became Christians, again, a very colonized version of Christianity that rejected their culture, and their language and their understanding of the sacred. And so they emphasized Western education and the English language with my father and my aunt, and they worked as translators for some of the early missionaries. My mother then came down as a missionary nurse and she was actually on her way to Africa when she met my father. And they began dating and fell in love and got married. And this was in the late 60s, which is literally right after biracial marriage even became legal in the United States. For much of this nation’s history, biracial marriage was not even legal
Stanislas Berteloot 13:18
Between the United States, Native Americans, and white people or for all races.
Mark Charles 13:24
Yeah, white people are not allowed to marry black people, native peoples biracial marriage was not legal in the United States until the late 60s. Yeah, and so and so they were married soon after that, and I, my siblings and I attended this Mission School, which was in the process of transitioning from a boarding school into a day school. And so we attended there I attended there as a boarding as a day school student. I had other friends and people who were Attending. There’s a boarding school student and many times our experiences were vastly different. So that’s the environment I grew up in, which was highly assimilated. Even though my Navajo grandparents lived on campus with us and I saw them every day, we did not speak Navajo in the home. The school I went to did not affirm Navajo culture. And it was it was a I so I was raised very much in in a white evangelical setting.
Stanislas Berteloot 14:34
I saw that you were widely mentioned in the Guardian. In the UK that’s quite prestigious.
Mark Charles 14:42
Yeah, they actually, they did a longer interview of me probably nine months ago. And then they quoted me on it on a story they did on the Navajo Nation. A week or two ago.
Stanislas Berteloot 14:56
Do you have a lot of coverage?
at the moment
Mark Charles 15:00
No, I’ve had a few national stories of very few. The press has largely ignored me, including literally writing me out of events that I’ve attended. The national press in the US does not want to cover my campaign.
Stanislas Berteloot 15:19
And why is that?
Mark Charles 15:21
Well, there’s two challenges.
The first is the history I’m discussing. Our nation doesn’t know what to do with it. Again, there’s a deep mythology in the United States of America that we have these foundations that are fantastic and great. And the press doesn’t know what to do with someone who clearly articulates a counter to that narrative. I’m second, I’m running as an independent and the press is deeply invested in our two party system and maintaining the status quo of that two party system. And so they largely ignore third party and independent candidates.
Stanislas Berteloot 16:00
Were you when you realize that Native Americans were treated as white Americans? And how did it make you feel?
Mark Charles 16:07
So, again how growing up I knew I was native, I knew that my father was Navajo I knew I mean, the reservation and my all our my native relatives were literally just across the street are where the reservation began in some instances. And we would go on to the reservation frequently I, I was, you know, Gallop is a center for both native and kind of the settler culture out there.
But had you asked me when I was in high school, or when I was even early college about what was the daily experience of native peoples, I probably would have told you that, well, the history was bad. But today, things are much better. And things have improved a lot. It really wasn’t until I moved I, I went to college, attended and graduated from UCLA in Los Angeles, moved to Albuquerque, moved back to California, got married, eventually moved back again to the southwest. And then, after a few years was called to pastor a church in Denver, Colorado known as a church was called the Christian Indian center. And the congregation which was primarily Navajo was really wrestling with the question of what did it mean to be native and be Christian?
Because the gospel was brought in a very colonial way, which said to be a Christian, you have to be a white, cultured person, speaking English and celebrating Christmas and the Easter Bunny and everything else and giving up your pagan heathen ways of your native culture. There was a renaissance if you will, going on not In the US, but globally, of indigenous Christians who are asking this question, what does it mean to follow the teachings of Jesus, but yet still be from the tribe and the cultures that we are from. And so, I began almost a 10 year process of building relationships with indigenous Christian leaders from all over the world. It was called the world Christian gathering on indigenous peoples. And we would meet every year every other year in a different nation around the world and would talk and challenge and learn about ways we would begin to deconstruct this colonial worldview.
And this is where I really began to understanding how deeply embedded the colonial history of our nation was so closely tied to the history of the church. After a few years, our family, my wife, and I decided that if I was going to really be leading in this type of movement, our capacity that I needed to live on the Navajo Nation, we needed to live there.
So we moved from Denver back to the Navajo Nation and we wanted to go because I grew up in a border town and on a mission compound and I, attended what essentially was a private school that was also operating as a boarding school.
Um, I, wanted to actually live as traditionally as we could. And so we moved into a very remote section of our reservation. Six miles off the nearest paved road on a dirt road. no running water, no electricity. Our neighbors were rug Weaver’s and shepherds, and we move they’re prepared to live off the grid. We move they’re ready to haul our water and cook by camp stove or are over an open fire to live by candlelight using an outhouse, all the things that life has like hurt sheep and everything else of life, what life is like out there and we prepared ourselves with that. What we what caught us by surprise. Literally slapped us in the face was how deeply marginalized we realized the reservation community was it literally like we felt like we dropped off the face of the earth. I learned very quickly that living on the reservation primarily the only nonnatives you ever see or interact with are those who come to give you charity or those who come to take your picture. Almost nobody comes to get to know you as a person or treats you as appear.
At the same time I’m experiencing and witnessing and observing the historical trauma of our people from the boarding schools from the long walk from the oppressive history. I’m learning more about the history I’m I’m seeing things from a whole different angle. I’m seeing the oppressive economic policies of our nation and how they’ve, they’ve caused this unemployment and the challenges of the reservation tribes not owning their lands, but there being trust land held by the federal government, and I’m seeing all these problems experiencing them firsthand.
Stanislas Berteloot 21:00
How do you feel?
Mark Charles 21:00
Stanislas Berteloot 21:00
How do you feel?
Mark Charles 21:01
I’m becoming more and more law I’m becoming angrier and angrier, I’m becoming very angry. And I’m trying to process through all this because again, I feel in some ways like a fish out of water because I’d never grown up experiencing this and thinking things used to be bad, but now they’re okay. And now I’m sitting in this environment and I find myself just doing and I’m trying to process through it even with some of my non native friends. Again, we’re doing this over the phone or email or, or even by letter because they’re not coming to the reservation.
And every time the topic comes up, I can feel the anger kind of welling up inside of me, and soon I have to hang up the phone so I don’t yell at my friends. So I began to kind of disconnect emotionally so I can talk about it more. Almost like this is something I read the newspaper, then I can stay on the on the discussion longer, but it’s not soon after that, that my friends defensive start rising. I didn’t do that to your people.
I wasn’t the cause of that. And soon they would hang up the phone. So I was searching for a way to engage the dialogue that led me honestly articulate what I was feeling, but didn’t drive myself or others from the conversation. And I was writing a letter to my friends this is after multiple attempts to get understand what I was feeling.
And in my letter, I said to them being Native American and living on our reservation in the middle of this country, it feels like our native peoples are this old grandmother who has a very large and very beautiful house. And years ago, some people came into our house, and they violently locked us upstairs in the bedroom.
Today, our house is full of people. They’re sitting on our furniture, they’re eating our food. They’re having a party inside our house. Now they’ve since come upstairs and they’ve unlocked the door to the bedroom, but it’s much later and we’re tired. We’re old, we’re weak, we’re sick, so we can’t or we don’t come out. But the thing that hurts us the most causes us the most pain is that virtually nobody from this party ever comes upstairs, seeks out the grandmother in the bedroom, sits down next to her on the bed, takes her hand and simply says thank you.
Thank you for letting us be in your house in why I wrote that. I mean, that’s it. That’s when I’m feeling it.
Stanislas Berteloot 23:22
I love that. I love the metaphor. I mean, I think this is right on. Why do you think nobody comes to you? Why do you think nobody asked?
Mark Charles 23:29
Well, I think the challenge is, is because of the history because of the implicit racial bias of white supremacy. Because of the dehumanization of native peoples, African Americans and women, our nation. Our nation doesn’t know how to deal with its history. It doesn’t know what to do with it, and so and so our country
There’s this reversal of roles.
One of the things our country, part of the national narrative that our country says about itself is that we’re a nation of immigrants. Now, that’s true for a majority of people. But when you call the United States of America, a nation of immigrants, you’re excluding two groups of people. You’re excluding Native Americans who were indigenous to these lands and did not immigrate to become a part of this country.
And you’re excluding descendants of enslaved people from Africa, who were brought here against their will, and then enslaved and forced to build this nation. So calling our nation a nation of immigrants excludes some of the most unjust and oppressive actions our nation has ever done. And so, there because we we have this narrative, not only of we’re an immigrants, but we’re a nation of exceptional immigrants, American exceptionalism. There’s this reversal of roles where you literally have 300 plus million technically undocumented immigrants, people who’ve never asked for permission, nor have they been given permission to be here.
And they act like they own the place.
And then you have 6 million approximately indigenous peoples native peoples who have been pushed to the side and are treated like unwanted guests in someone else’s house. And so we have this reversal of roles. Again, this goes back to the whole myth of America. One of the myths we have is that these lands were discovered. I have a book titled Unsettling Truths, the ongoing dehumanizing legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery. The first sentence of the first chapter says you cannot Discover lands already inhabited. You can steal lands that aren’t habitation, you can colonize lands that are inhabited. You can ethically cleanse lands are inhabited. You cannot discover them.
There’s already somebody there. So the fact that we have this national narrative that says, Columbus discovered America, it reveals the implicit racial bias, which is that Native Americans who lived here, and Africans who were brought here and enslaved, were not fully human.
And so this is why our nation doesn’t even think to say thank you.
Because then the belief is, and even if you go back to the boarding school, the goal the boarding school was to what to kill the Indian to save the man. The notion is that by the presence of white Europeans in this country, even by The bringing over of African people from Africa and then slaving them here, we civilize them and even humanized them.
And wasn’t that very generous of these white Europeans.
Stanislas Berteloot 27:26
The interviews continue with part two. In part two of this interview, I asked Mark whether Native Americans should work within the system, or should they focus on dealing with the foundation of the problem. Mark also talks at length about the relationship, or lack of, between African American and Native American. He discussed the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls crisis in the US.
We go on to talk about the impact of the Coronavirus on Native American community, President Trump is mentioned and Mark shares some of the immediate actions that he would take. If elected. Make sure you’re listening to part two of the interview of Mark Charles, an independent candidate to the presidential elections of the United States.