Most Americans, and probably a good number of global citizens, can quote the above section of the Declaration of Independence. But I doubt many can recall much of what comes after that or the historical context from which it was written.
In 1763, King George of England issued the Proclamation of 1763. In this proclamation, he drew a line down the Appalachian Mountains and essentially told the colonies that they no longer had the right of discovery of the empty (Indian) lands west of the Appalachia. That right was now reserved solely for the crown. This upset the colonists, so a few years later they wrote a letter of protest. In their letter, they accused the king of "raising the conditions of new appropriations of land." They went on in their letter to declare that "he (the King) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages..."
Yes, believe it or not, a mere 30 lines beneath the statement "All men are created equal," the Declaration of Independence refers to natives as "merciless Indian Savages." Making it abundantly clear that the only reason the founding fathers used the inclusive language "all men" is because they had a very narrow definition of who was and who was not human.
According to the Declaration of Independence, natives are dehumanized as savages who stood in the way of westward expansion.
And our country has no idea what to do with that.
Last year, about this time, the United States was in the midst of a national dialogue regarding the Confederate Flag. It was being called out as the symbol of racism and bigotry that it is. And on June 27, 2015, the issue came to a head when Bree Newsome climbed the 30-foot flagpole and took down the Confederate Flag that flew over the South Carolina State Capitol. She was immediately arrested, but hailed on social media as a national hero. Funds were collected to pay her legal fees. National news organizations clamored for her interview. And on July 9th, the South Carolina state legislators passed a bill to remove the Confederate flag from flying over their capitol.
But, as a native man, I was both amused and disappointed, as right in the middle of these historic events our entire country took the day off, cranked up their barbeque grills, gathered with family and friends, and celebrated another symbol of racism and bigotry from our colonial past.
The Declaration of Independence.
For the past 200 years, the United States has struggled with its history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, sexism, internment camps, immigration reform, and mass incarceration. And while we still have a long way to go, we have made some progress. Our first African American President is completing his second term in office. A female candidate for President is now the presumptive nominee of a major political party. The Confederate flag is no longer being flown over the South Carolina state capitol.
But there is one part of our history that we have no idea what to do with.
|Photo of Mark Charles by Kris J Eden|
It is this ignorance that allowed the hypocritical events of 2015 to take place. At the end of June and in early July, we celebrated the removal of the Confederate Flag because of the racism and bigotry it represented. But in the middle of those events, we paused and held a national party, complete with parades, concerts, and fireworks as we commemorated our violent colonial past and the dehumanizing Declaration of Independence that justified it.
Americans love the Fourth of July. It celebrates one of the documents that we, and even much of the globe, believe makes our nation exceptional. The Declaration of Independence has been lauded by historic figures and global icons such as Fredrick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Pope Francis as a foundation of equality and human rights.
But as a native man I would encourage each of them, as well as every citizen of our country and the rest of the world, to please, read the entire document. It’s not what you think.
- Mark Charles (Navajo)