“Merciless Indian Savages”

Some reflections as families come together during this long weekend in what is recognized as a federal holiday; The Fourth of July: 

 The Declaration of Independence was adopted on the Fourth of July in 1776. We, as Americans, are all too familiar with the statement from the Declaration which states “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal”—yet, lines below refers to Native Americans, who we all know are the first inhabitants and stewards of this land, as “merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions”.  It is clear, that “all men are created equal” does not include the Native Americans who are clearly perceived as subhuman to the United States of America’s founding fathers. The roots of injustice in the United States of America is written for the entire world to read: Merciless. Indian. Savages.  

The reality is that the United States exists because the land was colonized by means of degrading, looting, enslaving and committing mass cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. In fact, with the emergence of the United States of America, the flag we salute today was viewed by many as conflict, death, and destruction to the sacred and cultural American Indian way of life. Native populations decreased, as did traditional homelands, and cultural ceremonies. Many battles and forcible removal of Indian people from their traditional land is what this nation was founded on: from Battle of Wounded Knee; Battle of Steptoe; Battle of Little Big Horn; to Indian Removal Act; the Trail of Tears—to name a few. Ironically, according to the Smithsonian Museum of American Indian, federal agents allowed Indians who lived on reservations to conduct ceremonies on the 4th of July– as a way to have Indians learn about patriotism and celebrate the United States.  

As a result, a large number of tribal powwows and cultural celebrations occur during this time today. In fact, many tribal communities use this time to celebrate and honor American Indian veterans. This is seen during flag songs, veteran songs and victory songs we listen and dance to during Grand Entry at powwows. This is a reminder that Native Americans have served the military and armed forces at the highest rate of any ethnic group, including in world wars when they were not granted or recognized to be American citizens.  

My call to action is simple, as you light your fireworks and celebrate this federal holiday, let us remember the Indigenous people of this land who bore the wrath of what this federal holiday represents. Let us honor the Merciless Indian Savages.   

An excerpt of this piece can be read in Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity program’s piece 10 Moments and Movements to Help You Confront Systemic Racism in America.   

Artwork called “Decolonize” was created by Kami Jo Whiteclay for Creative Native Call for Art.