Land Back NDN Collective
Climbers atop Dakota Mills Grain in Rapid City, South Dakota, were arrested on July 4, 2021, as part of a “LANDBACK” protest calling for return of treaty territory to the Sioux Nation. Photo courtesy of NDN Collective
Notes from Indian Country
There were no Natives invited to sign the Declaration of Independence
Tuesday, July 6, 2021

 “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Thus began the prologue to the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The halls of Congress were filled with white men declaring their independence from England.

There were no Native Americans seated at the table that day. Indigenous people were not beholden to England back then. They had their own independent forms of government that was not tied to a foreign power.

'Merciless Indian Savages'
The Declaration of Independence refers to Native people as “merciless Indian savages.” Graphic by Mark Charles / Wireless Hogan

And so from day one it was apparent that this supposed new country would be by the white folks, and for the white, with liberty and justice for the white folks. At the time that declaration was signed the majority of the population of this country was Native American. Why were there no Native Americans invited to this historic signing?

From that day forward the independence of the Indian Nations would be challenged and subdued. Native Americans would be expected to give up their sovereignty and bring themselves under the control of the new government. All of this was done without consulting or including the opinions of the indigenous people.

One Nation gained its freedom and independence while all others lost theirs. But America’s Independence Day brings some ambivalence from Native citizens. It’s difficult to get past the reference to “merciless Indian savages” in the very document that declares independence from the British.

Tim Giago
Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

As the 4th of July gained in popularity Native Americans joined in the celebrations, put on their regalia, and rode horses or marched in the 4th of July parades. But what most Natives found that the fun was exploding all of the fire crackers, and blasting the night sky with roman candles.

I remember that as a young boy in Kyle on the Pine Ridge Reservation the anticipation and joy we felt as some of our elders prepared the night’s fireworks. It seems that the fireworks display was always a community thing.

But I don’t recall any patriotic displays to commemorate the birth of a new nation.

The only 4th I remember ever participating in happened at the request of the American Legion in Rapid City. They were going to have a float in the parade and needed two members of the American Legion boxing team to put on their boxing robes, put on a pair of boxing gloves, and the ride on the float to celebrate the American Legion. Hobart Lone Hill and I rode in the float that year.

The 4th of July means different things to most Americans. We tale the day off from work because it is a national holiday, we enjoy the fireworks, and many of us have a big cookout with friends and family. But most Native Americans remember that the day the United States gained its independence, we lost ours.

It makes a big difference.

Contact Tim Giago at