When Will Indians Get Their Independence Day?
It was last Saturday around noon and I was in no mood for banal blather.
It was 100 degrees and eerie smoke plumes filled the summer sky like ominous omens. According to the Denver Post, there are 10 wildfires spanning Colorado, and the largest—the High Park fire—is only now near total containment just two weeks after the thing erupted following a sudden strike of high-voltage lightening upon a cluster of Aspens somewhere deep in the northern Rockies.
And yet not a single journalist has, to date, asked the Utes how the largest blaze on white man record has affected them, even though it’s their ancestral land that the fires have blackened and burned almost bare.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised and neither should you for that matter.
But we’re not talking about mega mountain fires here. We’re talking the Fourth of July and the fat guy at the bar who wanted to beat me into kibble and feed me to his Doberman.
I was there to quaff a drink and maybe eat a burger before getting the hell back to work investigating the merits of a recent press release, one which promulgated the fallacy that Gen. George Armstrong Custer was instead chummy with Indians and, in fact, a stalwart advocate of Native American freedom and rights.
“What in God’s name is this ugly muck?” I shouted. I then ripped the press release in two and headed for the Providence Tavern in Edgewater, Colo. to cool down and fight the bad mood I felt building at the base of my spine.
I was nearly done with my meal and drink when I overheard a beer-bellied white man in an American flag hat utter to another hayseed sitting to his left, “ … and now their babies outnumber ours!”
I knew exactly what the backwater was talking about. He was referring to the recent report that today, minority births outnumber white babies.
“It’s those Mexicans!” he blistered. “My daughter’s dating one. Can you believe it? I told her I wouldn’t have him at my Fourth of July barbecue. No way.”
“Why the hell not?” I interjected from my table behind him and to his right. I spoke in my best Southern accent. I figured that I could get more out of the clannish bigot if he put his trust in me as a fellow Southerner.
“What for?” he asked sardonically. “It’s Independence Day, not Cinco de Mayo!”
I immediately jettisoned the phony accent. It was obvious that this wretched crony was going to spread his opinion to anyone within earshot. No need for clandestine chicanery, I thought. Come at him head-on.
“You know, I don’t celebrate the Fourth,” I said. “It’s not my holiday.”
“What in God’s name is wrong with you?” he bellowed. “This is the time of year that we celebrate our divorce from those damn Brits!”
The bartender eyed me warily as I stood and approached the bar with my drink and my half-devoured burger. I took a seat next to the dingy dullard.
“Well, I’m Lakota,” I said peacefully.
“What? … What’s that?” he asked.
“You see! That’s exactly why we call ourselves Indians. You don’t know us by nation unless it’s Cherokee or Navajo, and then oftentimes your people claim to be one!”
The man just glared at me and now I had the full attention of the bar.
“I don’t celebrate the Fourth because we, American Indians, haven’t had our Independence Day yet. We, unlike you guys, are still under the cloud of a taxing and tyrannical foreign government.”
Suddenly, my friend and roomie Juan Mercado sauntered into the bar. He’s Chicano and a bodybuilder with 60 percent of his body in tattoos. I don’t know if it was his figure, his bandana or the fact that he pulled up on a massive black Harley, but the big cantankerous curmudgeon immediately took another swill of his Coors, gaped at Juan for a second or two and then directed his attention back to the flat screen hung above the bar.
And that was it. The man and his friend finished their beers, paid their bill and then left the joint like frightened snakes with dull, venom-less fangs.
“Well done, Juan,” I said.
“Huh? What’d I do?” he muttered.
“Nothing. Never mind,” I said. "I wonder if Kenny G makes love to music by Kenny G?”
He chuckled. I then went about my meal and watered-down drink.
Well today’s the Fourth, folks, and there’s no other holiday in the American calendar that can get more people cranked up on blind patriotism and cheap booze quite like Independence Day. Not even Thanksgiving (that hokum holiday) can get so many hardcore Americans to brandish their miniature American flags and stab them into the soil like they were little Keystone XL pipelines.
And although it’s never prudent to slump into a tattered tavern alone and spark a conversation with paunchy patriots in American flag hats about your aversion to U.S. holidays the Saturday before the Fourth, it is always worth speaking up and pushing back whenever the descendants of illegal European immigrants have something foul to say about the southern indigenous peoples of this continent.
The bar situation was ill-boding and bad, and one thing all Americans know is that you never flay Independence Day. No. Not while we’re at war and definitely not publicly at the local pub. That kind of caustic and critical voice will most assuredly land you bound and gagged, bloodied and beaten. Had Juan not exploded through the doors that might have been my fate. We’ll never know.
Thanks, Juan. You saved my hide. Hoka.
Simon Moya-Smith, 28, is an Oglala Lakota journalist and blogger from Denver. He’ll attend Columbia University School of Journalism in the fall.