Thursday, July 3, 2008

Do Native Americans Celebrate Independence Day? Prejudice in the Declaration of Independence

Okay, so I was reading the Declaration of Independence over at the wikipedia site on it, given that it's the founding document of our nation, and since the second continental congress approved it and John Hancock signed it on July 4, 1776, that's the "birthday" we celebrate of the United States of America.

It starts out with this introduction:

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.

Then the famous preamble, which begins with:

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 it ends with:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Then it goes into a list of the British King's offenses.

The 27th and final offense (and this SHOCKED me when I read it) is 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.

Wow. Okay, so "all men are created equal" - except the Natives who were living here before we arrived. They're "savages." We'll just lock them up on "reservations," steal their land, starve them, mock them, kill them... the list of injustices is unbelievably long and painful!

Oh, and women, they're not equal either (women wouldn't even get the right to vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment of the United States Constitution in 1920!).

Oh, and slaves - yeah, those people with dark skins that we captured and brought over from another continent to buy and sell and work for us until they die - they're not equal, either.

And I'm sure Gay people weren't exactly high on the list of those "equal" in Thomas Jefferson's mind when he drafted the document, nor Benjamin Franklin's when he edited it.

(Ironically, Thomas Jefferson not only owned slaves but, also possibly had a child with one of his female slaves, Sally Hemings! Check out this rather dry explanation of the scandal here.)

Yet... Even amidst all their flaws, those "founding fathers" created a document that - as it's grown throughout its 232 years so far, has grown in meaning BEYOND their "original intent."

Our Country has evolved its meaning to where Today, "all men are created equal" means ALL of us: Native Americans, Women, Blacks, Gays - everyone human.

And that, perhaps, is the biggest and best way to reconcile the Prejudice in the Declaration of Independence. Maybe that's a reason even Native Americans can take part in the celebration to some bittersweet extent - to celebrate that a country exists - the United States of America - where we believe that ALL of us have been created EQUAL, and where we ALL have rights - including the right to





And that, I believe, is a great reason to celebrate.

So, to honor our Native American brothers and sisters, here's a different kind of fireworks for you to enjoy:

Happy 4th of July!


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