Fourth of July 2019

The more I learn about the true history of the United States, especially related to Native people and people of color, the more problematic the Fourth of July celebration is for me because of our past history and current state of freedom, or lack thereof.

This year even more so with the inhumane treatment of immigrants at the southern border, including those who are legally seeking asylum and “freedom” here.

Then there is the spectacle of the President trying to turn this year’s Fourth of July into a campaign rally. I’m a photographer and visual person and deeply offended by the disturbing images of military tanks in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

The following video is from a Newsweek article “Veterans Tell Donald Trump They ‘Feel Deeply Betrayed’ in July 4 Video Calling For Impeachment” by Jessica Kwong.

“I served almost 15 years in the Army and I feel deeply betrayed,” veteran Jose Vasquez says in a video produced in light of Independence Day. “Our democracy is under attack and we want to make sure that we protect it.” 

Army veteran Perry O’Brien said in the video that the Fourth of July is for celebrating the country’s independence from foreign powers, and, “How can we do that when we have someone in the White House who actively conspired with a foreign adversary to get there?”

Marine Corps veteran Marie Delus says in the video that Trump “should be impeached” because she believes he is not only cruel, but “also a criminal.”  

“Veterans Tell Donald Trump They ‘Feel Deeply Betrayed’, Jessica Kwong Newsweek, July 4, 2019

But the best orators who have marked the day have understood that our nation’s laurels are not meant to be rested on. Fourth of July speeches tend to divide into two sorts. The predominant variety is commemorative, celebratory, and prescriptive—solemnized, as John Adams predicted in 1776, “with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

But in his exuberance, Adams failed to anticipate that the Fourth, as it brought Americans together, would continually threaten to tear them apart. Over the years, celebrations of the Fourth have become a periodic tug of war between commemorations designed to affirm and even enforce the common identity of Americans—out of many, one—and subversive pushback from those obstreperous enough to insist that we are not all free, emphatically not all equal, and certainly not one.

James West Davidson

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass delivered “What to the slave is the 4th of July?”

The Secretary of the Interior issued this Code of Regulations (Code of Indian Offenses) in 1884, 1894, and 1904 through Indian Affairs Commissioner’s circulars and Indian agent directives. Indian superintendents and agents implemented the code until the mid-1930s. During this 50-year period, Indian spiritual ceremonies such as the Sun Dance and Ghost Dance were held in secret or ceased to exist. Some have since been revived or reintroduced by Indian tribes.

In response to this policy of cultural and religious suppression, some tribes saw in the 4th of July and the commemoration of American independence a chance to continue their own important ceremonies. Superintendents and agents justified allowing reservations to conduct ceremonies on the 4th of July as a way for Indians to learn patriotism to the United States and to celebrate its ideals. That history is why a disproportionate number of American Indian tribal gatherings take place on or near the 4th of July and are often the social highlights of the year. Over time these cultural ceremonies became tribal homecomings. American Indian veterans in particular were welcomed home as modern-day warriors. The Navajo Tribe of Arizona and Pawnee of Oklahoma are two examples of tribes that use the 4th of July as an occasion to honor their tribal veterans.

Now, your question might be wondering if July 4th is a time for sadness or bitterness toward the US for its long history of bullying, White supremacy, theft, tyranny, oppression, and cultural annihilation. Kiowas ain’t got time for that; it’s more important to remember that past so as to prevent a recurrence in the future. By the early 20th century, most Kiowas were fine being “Americans” too. We’re dual citizens, basically. And the men in particular relished the chance to gain war glory fighting for the red-white-and-blue. At the big annual Gourd Dance, every day starts and end with a flag song, where the US flag is raised high at the start, and lowered ceremoniously at the end. Other gourd dances often specifically honor veterans and brave warriors who’ve served in the US armed forces. 

What do Native Americans do on the Fourth of July? Andrew McKenzie, Kiowa Indian

Most native people see the 4th of July as a coming together with the larger American community. We are distinct individuals with a traditional culture, but there are plenty of Indians who find special significance in this holiday, including many American-Indian war veterans who have defended this nation.

Believe me, we native peoples remember that this country was taken from our ancestors–and the taking has not stopped. It might be cutbacks in education budgets or cancellation of programs to fund prescription medicine for our elderly and uninsured. Or it might be a stripping away of our rights to natural resources, or a whole host of other issues facing this community–but we are fully aware that colonialism is not dead.

OK, I will concede that historically the 4th of July is not actually about liberty and justice for all. It is a toast to freedom for a few. But my people are busy working to try to balance two worlds, to find our own voices and express our knowledge and creativity while living in a still-hostile white America. I don’t think it will help to go rain on somebody’s Independence Day parade.

I can’t be bothered indulging the pleas of some guilt-ridden white folks asking me to go fight for social justice and make a vocal protest on this symbolic holiday, while most of the country is relaxing and roasting corn and singing patriotic songs.

HOW AMERICAN INDIANS REALLY FEEL ABOUT INDEPENDENCE DAY, Chicago Tribune, July 4, 2000 (no author given)

When our server, who was also native, came to the table, I asked if I could show him something. I then stood up and pointed out that 30 lines below the famous quote “All men are created equal” the Declaration of Independence refers to Natives as “merciless Indian savages.”

This is the dilemma that Native ‘Americans’ face every day. The foundations of the United States of America are blatantly unjust. This land was stolen. Native peoples, Africans and many other minority communities have long been recipients of systemic racism. And the roots of it are right there for the entire world to see, printed in many of our founding documents; like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and United States Supreme Court case rulings.

As a nation we embrace this history because we are largely ignorant of the true nature of our past and have never been held accountable for our actions. As Americans we celebrate our foundations of ‘discovery’ and cling to our narrative of ‘exceptionalism’ because we have been taught that this nation was founded by God on a principle of freedom for all.

But the reality is that the United States of America exists because this land was colonized by Europeans who used a Doctrine of Discovery to dehumanize, steal from, enslave and even commit cultural genocide against indigenous peoples from both the “New World” and Africa.

Georges Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader from Canada, said, “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.”

Those are wise words that get to the heart of our national problem regarding race. On days like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, the United States of America celebrates its history. But a majority of our citizens celebrate in ignorance. After traveling throughout the country and educating audiences on the Doctrine of Discovery and its influence on our nation, I would estimate that less than 3% of Americans know this history or understand its impact on the current-day situation of Native peoples.

As a nation, the United States of America does not share a common memory, and therefore struggles to have true community.

So this Fourth of July I invite every American to start their day by learning about the Doctrine of Discovery. Allowing the reality of the dehumanizing nature of this doctrine to temper your celebrations.

The Dilemma of the Fourth of July, Mark Charles, Native News Online.Net, July 3, 2018

This entry was posted in Black Lives, enslavement, immigration, Indigenous, Native Americans, Poor Peoples Campaign, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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