With no disrespect to the Black Lives Matter movement nor to any person whose skin hue likewise often places them in perilous situations within a nation that still regularly favors people of lighter hues, I offer this declaration: Red lives matter.
As good people of compassion and empathy seek to remind their fellow Americans—today especially—that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” we must not forget the people who inhabited this land long before the Founders penned those famous words in the Declaration of Independence.
All men—and in that bygone era, the word men often connoted all people, regardless of gender—are created equal and, therefore, deserve certain rights and to be treated with dignity.
Native Americans—many of whom prefer the designation Indians—are less likely than Americans of African descent to live in large urban areas. By and large, Indians tend to live on reservations, somewhat isolated from most other Americans. And isolated all too often means forgotten. But forgotten does not mean apart from or less than the Constitution’s all of equality.
Most of us know that those isolated reservations typically are in remote and often harsh locales. After the hot, desolate four corners area in the nation’s southwest, the states with the highest percentage of Native Americans are Oklahoma and South Dakota. (Tulsa, Oklahoma, is one of the five American cities with more than 100,000 Native Americans among its population. That is an important statistic, as we’re about to see.)
When President Trump chose Tulsa as the site for his first rally of the COVID era, many noted that Tulsa was the location of the “Tulsa Race Massacre” of 1921, which left hundreds of Black Americans dead. Tulsa was also the approximate destination for the tens of thousands of Indians who had been removed from their native lands to the east to make room for white settlers. The Indians’ forced trek to the Tulsa area is now remembered as The Trail of Tears, named so for the 15,000 Indians who died along the migrations.
So, one of the few American cities that is home to more than 100,000 Native Americans was chosen as the site for a June 20 mass rally where thousands of Trump loyalists—most of them maskless—stood shoulder-to-shoulder, cheering on their white supremacist agitator. Not surprisingly, in the following weeks, Tulsa has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Now, for the nation’s Independence Day celebration—the day when we celebrate the passage of the above-mentioned Declaration of Independence, which declares all men to be equal—a maskless President Trump chose to visit South Dakota’s Mt. Rushmore—neighbor to several Native American reservations—to belt out another racist, hate-filled harangue to another mostly maskless crowd. Trump declared, in part:
Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive. But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them.
Not an Exemplary History
Those statues Trump referred to, incorrectly, are mostly monuments to Confederate leaders who rebelled against the United States, primarily over their continued desire to keep slaves. Following the Civil War, many of those confederates also were responsible for the Trail of Tears death march. Among those whose statues have been removed are Generals Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Congressman John C. Calhoun.
To call any of those men anything other than brutal, slave-owning racists is to give them more credit than they deserve. They were men who openly rebelled against the nation and against the pioneering statement about human equality established within its Declaration of Independence. That our current president—244 years after the signing of that Declaration—would choose to align himself with the rebels whose statues are being removed rather than with the common folks those oppressors tormented should tell us all we need to know about him. And that millions of other Americans cheer this president’s bigoted rhetoric should tell us all we need to know about them.
God may have created each of us as equals, but to many Americans equality applies to some, not all. Those who take that unequally equal outlook tend to, like their adored leader, glibly drape themselves in the flag—figuratively or literally. But they fail to comprehend the true meaning of the flag, of the nation’s founding documents, or of the national anthem, all of which they’ve turned into vain idols.
On this Independence Day, just 121 days before the November election, let’s remember the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans killed over the centuries in greedy land grabs. Let’s remember the 4.5 million Indians—many poor and with little hope—who still live and die on forgotten reservations throughout the nation. Red lives matter.
A Day to Remember
On this Independence Day, just 121 days before the November election, let’s take a few minutes to reflect on the meaning of all men [people] being created equally. Let’s contemplate what we can do to ensure equality for all Americans, regardless of color. Let’s consider what has become of this nation when its most-senior elected official is—by all appearances—telling Native Americans they are not equal and that he hopes the COVID-19 virus will reduce their numbers. Let’s mark this day on the calendar and re-open it November 3 as we vote Donald J. Trump and his cowering toadies out of office.
As a reminder, I suggest listening to Indian Wars, by Bruce Cockburn.