We should remember on this American Holiday that the independence we enjoy as a nation was not only at the cost of patriot soldiers but also at a great loss of life, independence and culture for the Native Americans. Their independence has had to be won back slowly over the past few generations–and is still in process.
Independence Day is often celebrated by Indians with mixed emotions. The U.S. Government in 1883 outlawed all Indian ceremonies and cultural gatherings–with the threat of criminal action against them, including jail time, if they broke this law. The only day they were allowed to gather and express some of their culture at first was during the 4th of July celebrations–to teach Indians how to become good Americans. Some Indian children were even reassigned new birthdays to coincide with the Fourth.
All across Indian Country today you will find the 4th of July being celebrated, but not by all. The Onondaga of upstate New York decided a few years ago to stop observing the 4th of July altogether. Right after America declared independence in 1776, George Washington ordered Onondaga villages to be destroyed–they were in the way of the new country.
Some Native Americans experience a love/hate relationship with America as a nation. They love this land; it is the home of their ancestors. Many feel a deep unexplainable connection to the geographic and historic homeland of their tribe.
It might surprise some to know that by percentage of population more Indians serve in the Armed Forces than any other people group in America. I am an Army Veteran of the Vietnam era. At every powwow and most Native gatherings there will be an honoring of the American flag and of all the veterans who have served. American Indians are, for the most part, patriotic.
However, many Natives are deeply disappointed in, and carry an undercurrent of anger and resentment toward the government. Why? Imagine if you can, being born on an Indian reservation and learning at a young age that things used to be different—somehow better. What happened? A people came from another land and conquered our ancestors. They took away our way of life. Outlawed our ceremonies. Took the best of our land and forced us to relocate to unknown lands. They imposed their language and governmental structures on us long ago. Our children were removed from their homes and put into institutions for reprogramming. We were stripped of our language, our culture and our dignity.
We were told that all of this was done for our own good?
Today Natives are still fighting for their treaty rights, the rights promised to them in exchange for their lands. No treaty has been fully kept by the United States and many have been completely violated. Today’s warriors are lawyers—they have to be. Just about every treaty right enjoyed today has been fought for and won in court, most of the time it took the Supreme Court to finally rule in their favor.
Is it any wonder why the Forth of July might be a day of mixed emotions for the original people of this land?
Miigwech Bizandowiyeg (thank you for listening).