Yesterday was July 4th, Independence Day, in the United States of America. It is a federal holiday that commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776. On that day, the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer bound under British rule and were free, independent states. The primary motivations for signing this declaration were that the colonists were against British taxation and the frontier policy, which was a proclamation by King George III that American colonists would not settle west of the Appalachian Mountains.
But what does any of this have to do with Native Americans? In the Declaration text you will find the following statement:
WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…
And then a bit later, this:
He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.
That’s quite the hypocritical statement, right? Jefferson states that all men are created equal in the same document that says Indians are merciless savages (they had a pretty narrow definition of “all men”, it doesn’t apply to People of Color). This document was reviewed and signed by several others that no doubt contemplated the content and all settled on the phrase. It was the prevailing idea at the time, which gives you a good perspective on why history unfolded and why things are the way they are today.
Today, the Declaration of Independence is celebrated with the holiday and generally read, in it’s entirety, on air by media outlets such as NPR. The phrase has been a popular topic for the last few years and is even left out of some readings now.
If you’re interested in learning more and reading the opinions of several other Native writers, just Google “merciless Indian savages”. You can find several opinions on the topic on sites like Native News Online and Indian Country Today along with several journal articles from sources like the American Indian Law Review.
As always, please leave a comment if you have questions or would like to discuss!