Native Views on Independence Day
More than 200 years ago, state delegates in North America officially called for freedom on July 2, 1776, with Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence on July 4, or what we now know as Fourth of July. While the date itself is a topic of debate, the bigger question is whether we should celebrate this holiday at all. Today, we look at a viewpoint that’s sometimes forgotten – the Indigenous one. Do Native Americans in the United States celebrate Independence Day?
It’s widely discussed that attempted genocide was committed against the Native population of America as part of the westward expansion. However, every U.S. Tribal citizen has a different viewpoint on the holiday. I can think of a few groups off the top of my head: those who celebrate it for patriotism, those who refuse to celebrate because of our people’s past, and those who observe Fourth of July simply because it is a holiday. These views are complicated to dissect, but I want to try to provide clarity based on my understanding.
Refusing to celebrate: Those who don’t celebrate the holiday have fair reason. The traditions and land lost due to the settlement of immigrated peoples is steep. Many Tribal citizens do not know their cultures because of it, and to this day, we still feel the repercussions of the attempted (and sometimes successful) conversion that ended not too long ago. Celebrating the birth of the country, and by extension the people that caused these crimes, may feel disrespectful to some Native people.
According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, there have been several instances when the U.S. government infringed on Native American ceremonies and celebrations. For example, in the early 1880’s the Secretary of Interior created the Code of Regulations barring American Indians from celebrating sacred ceremonies that were passed down for decades. It’s understandable why some Native Americans wouldn’t be interested in celebrating a nation that once didn’t give them freedom.
Celebrating for the sake of a holiday: On the other hand, there are those who celebrate for the sake of a holiday because who doesn’t enjoy an excuse for a celebration or gathering? Some Native Americans hold their own tribal gatherings on July 4 that have nothing to do with Independence Day.
Celebrating for patriotism: Lastly, we have the group with which I identify the most – those who celebrate independence because they still feel connection to our country. This can be hard to justify in some cases, but ultimately and despite the past, we are now citizens of the United States. By no means would I want to ignore the crimes that came before, but the ideal values some can see in America still ring strongly. Freedom, the pursuit of happiness, liberty and unity in their most ideal forms are something many want, including me.
While some may not align with this view, others do, I think it’s important we consider and respect the different views we each hold. If I had to say one thing, it would be regardless of whether you celebrate Independence Day, I think we should at least celebrate something that can bring us together. Divides still exist, but the meaning we give and see in something like Independence Day can bring us together and give us pride in something new.