We can’t celebrate independence if not everyone in this country is free.
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Happy Independence Day! Two hundred and forty-four years ago, the United States severed ties from Great Britain and established their liberty on the soil Indigenous people had called home. But this new country was not built for all to be free, but for white cis heterosexual men to be free.
Now in 2020, Indigenous lands are still being stolen!
To construct Donald Trump’s border wall, federal contractors removed at least half a dozen saguaro cactuses — a felony in Arizona. According to the LA Times, the saguaros are sacred to the Tohono O’odham tribe, as their tribal calendar is focused on their harvest. Border Patrol officials said that contractors only uprooted unhealthy cactuses, but scientists say that transplanting them often kills them. Over 90% of the cactuses in the border wall construction area near Organ Pipe have been “carefully transplanted,” Roy Villareal, the chief of Border Patrol’s Tucson sector said.
Furthering the destruction, crews blasted Monument Hill, Arizona, the resting place of Apache warriors defeated by the Tohon, officials said.
“That area is home to our ancestors,” Tohono O’odham tribe chairman Ned Norris Jr. said. “And by blasting, and doing what we saw today, has totally disturbed, totally forever damaged our people.”
It’s not like these destructions are against American nature. Let’s take a trip back through history:
According to The Library of Congress, when European settlers arrived on this continent in the late 1400s, there were around 900,000 inhabitants with over 300 different languages. Thanks to the Europeans’ diseases and murderous behavior, 90% of the natives died between 1492 and 1600.
Before the British colonies, Native American tribes lived in partnership and peace with the land. To them, the landscape is an ancient relative, and animals, plants and mountains all have spirits. Without the boundaries of walls, the earth was and still is their place of worship. They seek to preserve the land and maintain its beauty, but to Americans, the lack of development is seen as wasteful.
America’s founder George Washington “solved” the “Indian problem” by “civilizing” them, history.com stated. Native Americans were stripped of their traditional clothes and customs, forced to speak English (sound familiar?) and pray to the Christian God rather than to the earth or the Spirits.
Andrew Jackson continued this tradition with the Trail of Tears in 1831. The government forcibly moved tribes west of the Mississippi River to make room for American expansion. Thousands were hunted, imprisoned, raped and murdered. Some were bound in chains without any food, supplies or help from the government.
Native Americans didn’t even get a right to vote until 1948, and restrictive voting laws prevent many from voting today since many don’t have traditional street addresses. Congress didn’t pass the American Indian Religious Freedom Act until 1978. And even then, it didn’t get it quite right. It created no private right for Indigenous populations to practice their own religions, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Both this act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, intended to provide access to sacred sites, but they often fail to aid Native Americans.
One clear example is Mount Rushmore –– you know that monument designed and carved by a KKK member featuring the slave-owning founding fathers in the middle of a mountain sacred to the Sioux? The Sioux have been trying to reclaim The Six Grandfathers in the Black Hills for years. But last night, Trump held a rally and fireworks show there for the Fourth, despite the Sioux banning him hours before the event.
Courts have historically rejected most American Indian challenges to development on public lands.
In 2016, Energy Transfer Partners installed a 1,172-mile pipeline upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's reservation, destroying "significant Native artifacts and sacred sites". Originally, its installment was planned to be in a community north of Bismarck, North Dakota, but after residents objected, the pipeline switched routes.
ETP chose instead to disturb sacred land, including burial sites. It also would have negatively affected the tribe’s access to drinking water. Around 200 tribe members gathered in North Dakota and created makeshift camps to protest. Hundreds of thousands of Native Americans raised their voices to scream for clean water and safe sacred spaces.
“Our Mother Earth is sacred,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II in a statement in August 2016. “All things evolve and work together. To poison the water is to poison the substance of life. Everything that moves must have water. How can we talk about and knowingly poison water?”
The disrespect continued. In December 2017, the Trump Administration diminished over a million acres of the Bears Ears National Monument. Tribes have used the land for years in rituals and to collect medicinal ingredients. The tribes — the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni — worked to save the land, but the government stole it from them.
Today in the coronavirus pandemic, many Native Americans have an increased likelihood of contracting the virus with limited medical resources near their land. For the first time ever, Doctors Without Borders has sent aid to the U.S. The Navajo Nation has more cases per capita than any other state in the U.S., The Hill reported, in part due to limited space for social distancing.
If you haven’t realized by now, Indigenous populations have endured years of trauma by Americans and continue to face pain daily due to separation from their people and land. So, don’t say you are Native American when you are not. (This is coming from someone who once identified as part Native American with my slim DNA percentage. I recognize it was wrong.) This includes government representatives like Elizabeth Warren, too. Otherwise, you’re appropriating years of suffering.
Independence Day celebrates the escape Americans made from Great Britain and the colony state. Yet, it fails to recognize that this country perpetuates the very thing it fought so hard to leave behind. It’s so ironic that Trump signed an executive bill prosecuting anyone who destroys a racist monument, yet Native American’s land is desecrated over and over by the government without penalty. But even after 500 years of oppression, the tribes are still alive and fighting.
This “Independence Day,” we must acknowledge that we cannot celebrate freedom today when the very people this land was stolen from are not free.
Katie Delk is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. Her simple pleasures include meditating, sitting beneath trees, writing poetry and blasting '70s music. She cares immensely about the earth, powerful women and social justice. You can reach her at email@example.com for more info.