How do Indians observe the 4th of
July? Do we celebrate?
To answer, let’s turn back the pages of time. A
reasonable chapter to begin in is July 1776, when the Continental Congress
adopted the Declaration of Independence and 13 colonies
became the United States of America. With the emergence of a nation interested
in expanding its territory came the issue of what to do with American Indians.
History tells us that as the American non-Indian population increased, the
indigenous population greatly decreased, along with their homelands and
From the beginning, U.S. government
policy contributed to culture and land loss. Keeping our focus on the 4th of
July, however, let’s jump to the early 1880s, when Secretary of the Interior
Henry Teller developed what has come to be called the Religious Crimes
Code—regulations at the heart of the Department of Interior, Office of Indian
Affairs, Code of Indian Offenses
that prohibited American Indian ceremonial life.
Teller’s general guidelines to all
Indian agents were to end tribal dances and feasts. Enforced on reservations,
the code banned Indian ceremonies, disrupted religious practices, and destroyed
or confiscated sacred objects. Indian ceremonial activities were prohibited
under threat of imprisonment and/or the withholding of treaty rations.
The Secretary of the Interior issued
this Code of Regulations in 1884, 1894, and 1904 through Indian Affairs
Commissioner’s circulars and Indian agent directives. Indian superintendents
and agents implemented the code until the mid-1930s. During this 50-year
period, Indian spiritual ceremonies such as the Sun Dance and Ghost Dance were
held in secret or ceased to exist. Some have since been revived or reintroduced
by Indian tribes.
All across Indian country, tribes hold modern celebrations— including
powwows, rodeos, and homecomings—that coincide with the United States’
Independence Day celebrations.
READ July 4th Facts
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