Discussing
Mark Charles on Race, Trauma, and the Doctrine of Discovery

Josh Larsen

Josh Larsen
January 27, 2017

Video of Mark Charles speaking at Calvin College's 2017 January Series.

Mark Antonio
January 27, 2017

I would argue the Doctrine of Discovery was the best thing to happen to North America. If it weren't for European explorers discovering this continent, there would be no U.S., no Canada, no phones, tech, nothing.

This great continent was opened up for many new peoples and cultures to come and enjoy.

I shouldn't have to continually apologize for things done 600 years ago and in which I had no hand in perpetuating, nor should I have to feel guilty. Guilt is of the devil.

Reconciliation - or conciliation if you want - should be about acknowledging the past and working toward a better future. It shouldn't just be white people having to give in to every demand aboriginals make about how to change society to divest of "colonialism."

Doug Vande Griend
January 27, 2017

I listened to this January Series presentation, online, some time ago. There was some, but not too much, that I agreed with.

Mark Charles was part of the CRCNA Task Force that concluded the CRC had no business beginning, and should not have begun, the Rehoboth mission in New Mexico, and that the CRC doing so was merely another implementation of what the Roman Catholic Pope said (the so-called Doctrine of Discovery) around 500 years ago. Gratefully, the CRC's 2016 Synod disagreed with that conclusion.

I found Charles' presentation at this January Series to be shallow in its analysis, cherry picking in its historical citations, and extremely simplistic in its conclusions. It seemed to predominantly be a political pitch to me, as did the CRCNA Task Force Report.

Contrary to Charles' stated suggested in his address, the Grand Rapids audience didn't want to 'throw anything at him' when he was done, but rather was quite receptive. I suspect most in the audience knew Charles's message from having heard it and read it before, and were supportive of it before they come to the auditorium. Charles has found a receptive political home in the CRCNA, beginning years ago. And that home still exists.

Despite Charles claims that "we don't talk about" what he says, my experience has been that what he talks about and claims in fact has been extensively talked about, both in the CRC and more so in general American society -- for quite some years now. There was nothing that Charles presented in his January Series presentation that I've not heard discussed, and have discussed, frequently before -- beginning decades ago.

My greatest concern about the political perspective and advocacy of Charles, and others of the same sentiment, is that its ultimate net result will be (can be) nothing beyond increased societal division with no particular benefit to, or justice for, anyone.

Cyndy Warnier
January 27, 2017

I found this interesting; I have heard Charles speak before. I can also understand both points above; however...there is always a but isn't there--I could also sense in both parties above and in Charles the constant "us vs. them" attitude. Until we release that on both sides we will just never go forward. Racism takes its forms in many ways - on this issue it remains alive and well on both sides because both sides are keeping it alive. This benefits no one. And for the mission of Christ, it is indeed destructive to the core. As the 2nd comment stated, "no particular benefit..." with exception that once again, what do people perceive we Jesus followers - it is in what we do, how we live, and how we speak that identifies us with Christ. We don't have to tip-toe over facts, but if any body of people has the ability to act, share and live in grace to help mend these fences and perpetuate reconciliation, we--the children of God do--in his power, not ours. And the silence the reiterates from church to church to church continues to perpetuate the problem rather than start a bond of healing.

Doug Vande Griend
January 27, 2017

In Reply to Cyndy Warnier (comment #29885)
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I'm not sure why you sensed an "'us vs. them' attitude" in my post, Cyndy. I would suggest I support more of a 'let's drop the Hatfield/McCoy feud' because it is simply too many generations down the road, and to continue the feud (even if we clothe the feud with accusations of of "injustice") cannot but lead to anything constructive -- although doing so will maintain a perpetually open wound.

To be more particular, I would ask what the end goal is for going back 500 years, to a Roman Catholic Pope no less, to purportedly discover a single root cause for injustices against indigenous peoples living in the Americas in 2017, and then simplistically assigning blame to all presently living "white people," almost all of whom stand in no causal relationship position to the purported source of injustice? For Mark Charles, the answer given of course is that all those white people "drink downstream" from what happened centuries earlier. That may be persuasive sounding rhetoric at first blush, but there is so much about that metaphor ("drinking downstream") that lacks in substantive truth when the actual details are actually examined.

Taking up wrongs that were done within a past few decades can sometimes result in actually "doing justice," but even then generally only when the persons who were wronged are the persons receiving the remedy (as opposed to "downstream drinkers"). Beyond that amount of historical time, it gets increasingly impossible for any justice to be done, and persistent dwelling on past wrongs just results in grudges, division, and inability to live life in a forward direction. Indeed, it results in "us vs. them"-ism.

To illustrate, the Irish were a population that was effectively enslaved by the British empire, and in the Americas, approximately in the decades around the initial forming of the United States. Of course, plenty of non-Irish have "drunk downstream" from that (i.e., benefited, arguably, from the indentured servant labor of the Irish). Would it be constructive in 2017 for the Irish to be publicly showcasing that injustice and pointing accusatory fingers at the British (or non-Irish Americans) who live today? I'd say clearly not, although if the Irish took up the cause, it would add one more to the groups in the United States clamoring for most oppressed status (and eventually, invariably, reparations). This is just one example of course. Give me an hour and I can easily come up with a dozen more. Once one has enough history to go back to (in Mark Charles' case, its 500 years), one can find an unlimited supply of injustices to develop into (true) oppressor/oppressee cases.

So I'm not all all interested in litigating Hafield/McCoy feuds, or any "us vs. them" arguments -- or even one-way accusations -- based on events that happened to others many decades ago where today the oppressor descendants are oppressors merely because they purportedly "drink downstream" from those original wrongs. In law, there is a "statute of limitations" for the prosecution of all wrongs, and for good reasons (for ALL parties). That metaphor applies wisdom here.

Spy
January 27, 2017

Thank you for bringing this speech to my attention. I'm Australian so I only know what happened to Aboriginal people here.

It was much the same, a 'Terra Nullius' (empty land) was declared despite Aboriginals living there for 50,000 years. They slaughtered them, stole their land and children, raped their women and children, paraded them like animals in a zoo and basically tried but failed to wipe out all blacks in Australia.

To this day Aboriginal people who live on their spiritual land are kept in squalid conditions and without electricity or proper medical care. Aboriginal people dying in prison from curable illnesses are just left to die. The very first people to come to Australia are treated like refugees.

'Patriot' Australians have said that Native Americans have gotten over it. I knew such a thing wasn't true.

Spy
January 27, 2017

Wow. I just watched the video in full and I did not expect Native Americans to go through the exact same hardships as Aboriginal Australians. I can't believe I could ever feel sickened all over again.

I'm trying to get my head around White Trauma now. I had this Prime Minister who denied parts of history and I always thought it was because he was racist, but now I think it's trauma and that makes me uncomfortable, because I've been angry at him and many like him for years. I still believe there are people out there who believe in White Australia (white supremacy) and that's true for America too.

But I don't know whether it's trauma or racism now.

I'm beginning to see a pattern in the oppressed becoming oppressors and I just wonder when we (Socialists) gain power who will we oppress? I keep thinking about Richard Spencer getting punched and I keep thinking should I be for or against this? Are we going to oppress a certain group of people because of their views? The difference is neo Nazis are hateful and support state control and eugenics, but is it still fair to oppress them?

Doug Vande Griend
January 28, 2017

In Reply to Spy (comment #29890)
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History does have some precedental examples that might suggest what will happen, Spy, when "[you] Socialists gain power," including in 20th century Russia, China, Cambodia.

Perhaps oppression of one form or another, and the doing of injustice, however defined, has always been and will always be a tendency of the "current condition" of human kind. I would argue the more centralized power becomes in any particular segment of human society (roughly, nation), the greater the tendency for oppression and injustice -- because it can be done from afar. Which is one of the reasons I don't care for Socialism: it concentrates and emphasizes the importance of power at the top of the political society's authority structure (that is, "from afar").

Spy
January 28, 2017

In Reply to Doug Vande Griend (comment #29896)
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Ha, I was waiting for someone to mention Russia. That is precisely my worry - that we will make the same mistakes. The party I support is well meaning but the last party (social democrats) I supported, that is a part of the 2-party majority, disappointed me majorly so now I think that every well meaning group is going to end up turning on the people it once vowed to fight for.

I'm short on time but that socialism you are describing is not the socialism I'm aiming for.

Bernard
January 30, 2017

In agreement with much of what Doug states. What I found sadly troubling was what one of my college history professors warned us about as an integrity issue: that is, "backwards writing history to justify present or future action or opinion" by either using "alternative facts" or being selective in the historical facts that one chooses.

In regards to Mr. Charles, he claims Navajo ancestry and rightly, proudly so. But...during a very recent trip to the American southwest, if my sources are accurate, my discovery was that his ancestors practiced their own "Doctrine of Discovery" in summarily dislodging a people-group indigenous to territority they conquered!

If true, one has to wonder what else was left out of what I took to be a polemical exercise.

Joel Kiekintveld
March 21, 2017

it is interesting to read the comments on here that dismiss this as a 500 or 600 year old issue when the laws governing land ownership in any land that was "discovered" are still being based on the Doctrine of Discovery. That makes this a contemporary issue not one that we can shield ourselves from based on history.

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