Courtesy Pius Spottedhorsechief, vice president of the Pawnee Indian Veterans
The Pawnee Indian Veterans Homecoming Pow Wow recognizes returning veterans. Pawnee, Oklahoma. The 68th annual Pawnee homecoming takes place July 3 through 6, 2014.

Do American Indians Celebrate the 4th of July?

Dennis Zotigh

The following was originally posted on July 3, 2013 by the National Museum of American Indian and has been updated with more readers’ comments and descriptions. Follow the discussion on the museum's Facebook page.

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 cultural freedoms.

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.

In response to this policy of cultural and religious suppression, some tribes saw in the 4th of July and the commemoration of American independence a chance to continue their own important ceremonies. Superintendents and agents justified allowing reservations to conduct ceremonies on the 4th of July as a way for Indians to learn patriotism to the United States and to celebrate its ideals. That history is why a disproportionate number of American Indian tribal gatherings take place on or near the 4th of July and are often the social highlights of the year. Over time these cultural ceremonies became tribal homecomings. American Indian veterans in particular were welcomed home as modern-day warriors. The Navajo Tribe of Arizona and Pawnee of Oklahoma are two examples of tribes that use the 4th of July as an occasion to honor their tribal veterans.


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Steve Hampton's picture
Steve Hampton
Submitted by Steve Hampton on
We can also celebrate the inspiration of the US provided by the Iroquois Confederacy, evidenced on the back side of a $1 bill. See

James Barter
James Barter
Submitted by James Barter on
Indigenous people hemisphere wide lament and are in sorrow at the US government's existence. Do you think any of us are truly glad America stole our land? Raped our people and land? Strut around wealthy while our people often don't have homes? While your BIA gets to decide who is Indian? Soon the US will realize that in this hemisphere the majority of people have indigenous blood and the majority of this hemisphere is clamoring for revolution. From Venezuela to Canada people want to control their land. It may not happen today or tomorrow but it will happen. This government is illegal. During it's creation so many human rights violations occurred. The UN has recognized it and the US refuses to recognize it. So to all the Natives out there . Tel them you do not celebrate the 4th, tell them you will not celebrate your own undoing. Tell them you support indigenous revolution! Tell them with your actions. I was at our powwow last Summer and one of the Natives brought out the tired sham of the "South Vietnamese flag". This really made me sad. I realize many of our boys were sent to do to the Vietnamese what was done to us and I honor their memories. But think on the horrendously ridiculous irony of a bunch of natives in 2014 standing around dancing and holding the flag of the fake nation the US killed over 6 million Vietnamese trying to force on the Vietnamese people. There is no South Vietnam nor is there a legitimate US government. To say the US government is legitimate is to say that genocide is legitimate. It is not.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
James Barter, Now you know how I feel about this topic! Some may call us radicals, old hold-outs & tell us we need to forget the past. Nonsense! I have refused to celebrate ANY celebration that marks our many People's demise once I found out who my People, ancestors & what my true heritage was. ......................................................................................................................... Some may call me old, but my spirit is young & my zeal for speaking out against wrongs is well-known around various places. As long as the Creator gives me one more breath & the ability to write with these old hands I will always speak out when a People are being abused, used & mistreated. ......................................................................................................................... The pen can truly be mightier than the sword my friends if we wield it skillfully, truthfully & stand up against oppression anywhere it rears it arrogant & ugly head!

iceman24019's picture
Submitted by iceman24019 on
This past July 4, 2014 marks the 238th year of the birth of the United States but, this date also means another anniversary the end of the nations of the indigenous people of this country; the American Indians. In truth the end started much sooner with the arrival of Christopher Columbus with his cruelty, slavery and reign of terror. At the Sand Creek Massacre in November 1864 at the end of the one-sided battle as many as 200 Indians, more than half were women and children, had been killed and mutilated. At Wounded Knee December 1890 four hotchkiss revolving barrel machine guns were used in the killing of Indian men, women and children it is estimated that 350 were killed, and the list goes on. An independent research estimated that between 10 million and 114 million Indians were killed as a direct result of US actions. The Nazi Holocaust estimates are between 6 and 11 million; which makes the Nazi Holocaust the 2nd largest mass murder of a class of people in history. The solution; today there are approximately three hundred Indian Reservations in the United States. It was President Ulysses S. Grant who set up the first Indian Reservation to help with the conflict between American Indians and the early settlers. The honest truth is that American Indians were here first and because of our greed we took over their lands. We made laws to restrict their access to hunting and fishing all the while stripping the land of its resources. Today it is estimated that some of the Reservations are home to our country’s poorest citizens. - Life expectancy on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the lowest anywhere in the western hemisphere, except for Haiti. Me, I am white, I served 21 years in the Army and I can trace my ancestry back to Plymouth and the first settlers of Virginia and yes, some killed by American Indians. I cannot find a trace of American Indian blood in my family but, that does not stop me because my heart and soul is American Indian. The Lakota people have a saying “Mitakuye Oyasin” meaning All Are Related. The phrase itself, and the underlying belief of interconnectedness with all creation, is a part of many Yankton Sioux prayers,[2] and is found in use among Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. With all that has happen over the centuries to the American Indians; these proud people are still here and I for one am so thankful they are. “I want to honor their memory. I want them to know I will never forget even though I am not American Indian I want them to know they will forever be in my heart”. Michael Isom

lilred410's picture
Submitted by lilred410 on
Native Americans celebrating America even though it was not right to take their land. If it weren't for them, the pigrims would not have survived. If it weren't for them, we would not have won World War II. Many natives are vets. They respect us as people and do not hold what our ancestors did against this generation. African Americans who hold the past against us need to use the Native Americans as an example. Their people are very blessed. They are interested in healing the soul. Therefore they will be greatly rewarded. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfullness, gentleness, and self control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23