Mark Charles is the first Diné ever to run for president of the United States. He was also the first candidate of the forum so far to acknowledge the Indigenous lands near the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum.
The two-day event took place on the ancestral lands of the Omaha, Yankton Sioux, and Oceti Sakowin, according to the Native land map created by Native Land Digital. Just 20 miles south of Sioux City, Iowa, are the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, and the Omaha reservation.
Attendees sat and stood with their phones out taking photos, videos, or live-streaming as Charles stood on stage with his turquoise necklace, tsiiyéeł, and black Nike sneakers.
He greeted the audience and said “I feel so at home here.” The only thing that was missing was a mutton stand, he said.
The attendees burst in laughter.
He took the time to acknowledge Marcella LaBeau, a 99-year-old veteran who is on the forum panel. LeBeau is a World War II veteran where she served as a nurse. She has been recognized with significant honors, including the French Legion Medal of Honor.
Charles said in the Navajo culture it’s important to recognize elders in the room.
“As a man who is both a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the Navajo Nation, I want to respect you. I want to honor you. And I want to answer your question,” he said with a loud applause from the audience.
He addressed the crowd as his relatives and the audience of approximately 250 people responded as such with laughter, constant applauses, and frequent lulus.
Charles used the first 30 minutes of his 45-minute allotted time for his opening statement and one question from LaBeau.
He talked about his vision where “We The People” would really mean (is this wording ok??) t “All the People” as referenced in the Constitution of the United States. The document also uses all male pronouns, doesn’t include Native people, and counts each African American as less of one individual.
That lead into slavery.
Back then it was legal and it’s still legal today even with the 13th Amendment, he said.
“Slavery, where is it legal?” he asked the audience. A few whispered “prison” as Charles answered the same within seconds. “We need to abolish slavery in the United States of America.”
He talked about Supreme Court cases and changing the laws that are the “foundation” of this country, but didn’t address how he would do that.
The country is like building a house. You can choose new furniture and curtains, and make the house look nice to address problems, but if the foundation is not examined, the problems will never be fixed, he said.
But that lack of a policy plan didn’t affect the audience. Many of them liked his beliefs and related to him.
Stephanie Grassrope, Lower Brule Sioux, did not know about Charles before today but he was one of the two candidates who stood out to her.
She liked his inclusion of all minorities and his message.
“Honestly, I felt inspired and moved. He was sincere in his words and everything,” she said.
Rachel Fernandez, Menominee, volunteered and ushered on both days. She heard the whispers in the crowd about Charles.
“I heard from some people that some of the people were pleased with the Doctrine of Discovery points so I think it’s exciting there’s a Native American who wants to make change for people,” she recalled from the crowd reaction.
The panelists were upset all seven of their questions weren’t reached. Charles’s long opening statement and elaborate answers allowed only three to four questions to be asked.
The attendees continued to applaud him. They were just happy they could relate to a presidential candidate in some way.
It’s not often that voters hear a candidate tell them, “Ahéhee', my relatives!”