As the nation continues to reckon with its racist past, it’s worth taking a closer look at how July 4, Independence Day, is celebrated. The day, recognized as when America gained its freedom from British colonial rule, contradicts the slavery, genocide, and injustice that persisted against Black and Indigenous people then and now. It’s no secret that Black people and Native Americans have been violated in this country; celebrating its independence can invoke complex feelings.
For Black Americans, the Fourth of July was used as an opportunity for newly-freed enslaved people to celebrate their liberation in the early years following the Civil War. Since then, getting together, sharing food, and enjoying each other’s company –– more than celebrating America’s history –– have been tenements of how many of us spend the day.
For Native American communities, the day was once used by some tribes as an opportunity to revive previously-banned spiritual and religious ceremonies. The commemoration of American freedom, however, cannot ignore the stolen lands, broken treaties, and continued wrongdoing by America’s government.
Many of the American symbols of patriotism bypasses the truth of the genocide of Native Americans that led to their land being stolen. For example, the construction of Mount Rushmore violated sacred lands of Native communities in South Dakota, and continues serves as an American symbol.
Many city and state names –– even some brand names –– are Indigenous names of land that once belonged to and was occupied by Native American tribes. Before Christopher Columbus carried out the killing of millions of people, there was an estimated 60 million people living in what is known as North America.
What Do We Celebrate?
While the day can be taken to focus on being with loved ones, reflecting on or learning about human rights fights Native Americans are engaged in doesn’t hurt. Check out these five Native-led organizations and causes below.