July 09, 2011

Three words in Declaration of Independence

A woman wrote about her family tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July:

The Damaging Three Words of the Declaration of Independence

By Alison OwingsEventually, however, we get to "domestic Insurrections amongst us," and here it comes, the phrase that distresses me so much after spending close to a decade meeting, and listening to, Native Americans, that I can barely stand to read it, nor type it.

"... the merciless Indian Savages."

Say what? From the elegantly-quotable Jefferson? Yes. "... the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions."

While Native Americans celebrate this 4th of July weekend, probably with hotdogs and fireworks, and possibly a powwow (as far as I know, the day has not attained the level of dislike or dismissal in Indian country that there is towards Columbus Day), I wonder whether we might all read the Declaration of Independence out loud, consider what that three word phrase wrought, not to mention the words about "undistinguished Destruction." Destruction of who by whom? Native people, among others, may ask.

Pretty innocuous stuff, you might say. The Founding Fathers had a problem with Indians...so? Newspaper Rock readers see more inflammatory comments almost every day. And this appeared in the Huffington Post, that bastion of the "liberal media."

According to Owings, here's what happened:

The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s “Merciless Indian Savages,” and Getting Flamed on Huffington Post

By Alison OwingsMention of “merciless Indian savage” kicked up such a huge and ferocious storm that I have not read all the comments: 3,187 of them when I last checked.

Of the many I did read, a majority were wagging finger-ish. “Didn’t I realize that the Declaration reflected thinking in the 18th century, not the 21st?” “Didn’t I know that the passage I quoted is part of a long list of grievances against King George III?” “Please be aware that Jefferson owned slaves…” To which I say, “Duh, duh, and duh.”

Some comments were shocking by perspective alone. Common themes: Look what Indians did to settlers, savagely and mercilessly, wrote several people. Jefferson was right! Or, “Jefferson was referring only to Indians in western settlements”—(“Nothing in that statement shows a belief that ALL Indians were merciless or even savage,” wrote nullcodes). Or, “Now Indians can go to college for free.” A person with the handle of jdjay comments, “There were some pretty evil tribes but focusing on the bad ones as being representa­tive of the whole is obviously not an objectivel­y Christian or spiritual approach.”

Here sunshine14 steps in: “Does not matter if their [sic] were evil tribes or good tribes, not our land was it, regardless­?” This rankles Syllogizer. “You are ignoring the facts that even Tocquevill­e pointed out: the Indians did not even HAVE a concept of land ownership when the Europeans arrived. So no, the land was not ‘stolen’, since it wasn’t ‘owned’ in the first place.”

Oh, Lordy. That one drew a lot of heat.

Thankfully, a number of people, including many self-identified as Native, challenged the challengers, and the challengers’ challengers. One gentleman (as I think of him) took on a creep who wrote that my essay, meant for the 4th of July of all days, was “treasonous.” Eek.
Comment:  "Treasonous," eh? Thanks for that deep understanding of the 1st Amendment, fella.

As you can see, there's so much ignorance among Americans, even liberal ones. So much denial of America's genocidal past.

We could rebut all the anti-Indian arguments, but why bother? Sunshine14's point is the basic one to remember. Regardless of the details, Europeans invaded a foreign land and conquered its people. The Indians correctly assumed these attacks would destroy their way of life and fought back in self-defense.

For more on our genocidal history, see US Condemned Indians to Diabetes and Scalia Demands Written Policies.


Anonymous said...

Treason isn't even...

Now, actual treason would be the business class that supported the Nazis, often long after they'd declared war on America. Like George Bush's granddaddy.

Anonymous said...

Natives aren't supposed to be taxed either, but the case in NY over collections of sales to non-natives kinda reeks of telling you how and what to do in running your business, something corporations seem to always find a loophole.

Every document signed by government representatives, especially treaties between Indian tribes and the US, have been recinded, revoked, amended, reworded or outright violated since colonization, why take them serious?

Remember, everything Hitler did to the Jews was "legal" also.

I admire at least one family that still reads a part of the US heritage and brings to light a controversy, but its not something new to Indians.

We see the US gov't, and its subject citizens lies' down to an artform.

Shadow Wolf said...

Most people today are aware of the past misguides by the Oppressors during those times. Let's just say that the mindsets of the colonizers in the past centuries down, is not exactly on par with the White man of today. Can we fault them for how their poor perceptions of Natives during that time affect how they lived?

In fact, most Americans are quite ignorant on the Declaration of Independence. And most likely have not even read the document themselves. I wouldn't necessarily make a big fuss about this one as opposed to the Columbus Day. Because our Nation's history is full of flaws, especially when it comes to Native Americans.