The Fourth of July came and went without much fanfare for me. I didn’t put any American flags out. I didn’t buy any fireworks – although I did go to my Navajo/Pueblo neighbors’ house across the street and watched them shoot off illegal fireworks. Not once did I think about the holiday being about the birth of the United States. Not once did I think about the Declaration of Independence being signed by the so-called Founding Fathers.
I don’t think a lot of Americans, including Native Americans, even know the history of the Fourth of July. They just know they get a day off and plan a special event or a barbecue. I also believe most Americans certainly don’t know about Native peoples contributions to the history of the U.S. But there are some enlightened non-Native folks who have actually studied or at least have put in an effort to learn about the history of the country they live in. They know what went down for them to have their version of freedom.
“The experiment of the United States began in large part because the colonists observed living examples of liberty and justice in Native peoples and tribes here on Turtle Island – in total contradiction to the monarchies that prevailed in Europe at the time,” said Glenn Aparicio Parry, the author of Original Thinking: A Radical ReVisioning of Time, Humanity and Nature – which won a Nautilus Award for Science and Cosmology.
“The founders did not come up with their ideas out of the blue,” explained Parry, who lives in Albuquerque. “The concepts of federalism or division of power between states and federal government; the bi-cameral Congress; executive veto and the right to overturn veto; the right to impeach, and much more came from the Iroquois Confederacy, originally established in 1132 according to some estimates.
“To informally caucus came from the Narragansett tribe,” explained Parry. “Caucus is an Algonquin word. The idea for the colonies to come together at all came from Chief Canassatego (Onondaga) to Ben Franklin, who convinced the other founding fathers. This was the sacred basis embedded in our founding philosophy. But it was also only half-baked at the time.”
One of the subjects I did think about was a holiday established by the Sac and Fox Nation (my tribe) called Victory Day. Here’s what the Oklahoma Historical Society says about this unique tribal holiday:
In 1983, the tribal government established its own system for registering vehicles and issuing license plates for tribal members. The state of Oklahoma tried to collect registration fees anyway and the tribe sued. The US Supreme Court ruled in the tribe's favor on May 17, 1993, in Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Sac & Fox Nation allowing other tribes to follow suit. May 17 is now celebrated by the Sac and Fox Nation as "Victory Day."
I’m not so sure that many of our tribal members could give details about our Victory Day, especially our young people. This needs to be changed. The case has created more independence for not only our tribe, but all the tribes who now issue tribal license plates across Indian country.
So instead of grilling hot dogs and hamburgers last week I spent some time explaining to my son what the Fourth of July is really all about and why it is considered a national holiday.
We can cry about being called Merciless Indian Savages in the declaration, but I think tribes and Native people need to get way more proactive as we move forward to educate people about this nation’s true history – even our own people. Most of us know about Columbus Day being insulting, but what about Thanksgiving and/or the Fourth of July? Personally, I don’t think the Fourth of July is insulting to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Like I’ve said before I’ve got bigger fish to fry, but I do think that we can do a way better job of spreading the truth.
Harlan McKosato is a citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. He is the Director of NDN Productions, an independent media production company based in Albuquerque.