Comedian Chris Rock sent out a tweet that went, "Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren't free but I'm sure they enjoyed the fireworks."
Was he not telling the truth? Of course he was, but some people took it as offensive and unpatriotic. Those are the same people who bury their heads in the sand whenever anyone speaks about the not so happy history of America.
Native Sun News, a weekly newspaper based in Rapid City, S. D., recently ran a cartoon that showed an Indian and an African American standing side-by-side with the caption, "Which country was built on genocide and slavery?" There have probably been several, but the first country that came to the minds of most Native Americans was America.
When America celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1976, Indian activist Russell Means made an announcement that he and the American Indian Movement would "blow out the candles on America's birthday cake."
Means, like most Native Americans, knew their own history. He knew that America had built this Nation on genocide of the Native population and on the backs of Black slaves. He didn't sugarcoat this dark history of the birth of this Nation.
Comedian and activist Elon James White who hosts a show called, This Week in Blackness, defended Rock. "I just want to ask everyone who's mad at Chris Rock: Is he wrong?"
He went on to say:
I find this Chris Rock backlash ridiculous. Really? Someone tells the truth and you mad? I'm American. I never claim otherwise. I never give the 'We didn't land on Plymouth Rock' speech unless it's in a really funny way. But part of being American, to me, is that I have to acknowledge all the bullshit that comes with it. Basically some folks came over, stole other people's land, killed them, then started a country on the backs of my people while killing them, and then at some point, freed the slaves, but then oppressed them and killed them some more. Do I have the ability to do things here that I wouldn't in some parts of the world? Yes. But my family paid the price for that in actual blood, sweat and tears. If more people were like Rock and acknowledged the truth maybe we'd be in a better place as a Nation.
As White pointed out, there are some things in the history of America that are ridiculous and some that have never been addressed or corrected. For example, at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, 300 Lakota men, women and children were slaughtered. Women and children were chased down in the hills and valleys and shot down like animals. When the Lakota people speak of this massacre they always say, "Wokiksuye Cankpe Opi" or Remember Wounded Knee. To them it is like when Americans said, "Remember Pearl Harbor." The United States of America awarded 20 Medals of Honor to troopers of the 7th Cavalry for the killing and maiming of these innocent Lakota men, women and children.
Was that wrong? Of course it was wrong, but the honorable government of the United States has never apologized for this massacre, and what is worse, has refused to rescind these inglorious Medals of Honor.
Most Native Americans look back at the Declaration of Independence as a time in their history when the inevitable destruction of their homes, lives and territory was about to begin. On April 30, 1803 the United States purchased 828,000 square miles of land from France in what became known as the Louisiana Purchase. How did France come to own this land? They simply planted a flag on it and said this is now ours. Never mind that thousands of indigenous people had been living on this land for thousands of years. The land the United States bought from France was stolen land.
There are so many things in America's history books that do sugarcoat the truth. Ojibwe activist Vernon Bellecourt, now deceased, often said that the story of America is "His-Story" because it was written from one point of view. Seldom, if ever, was the indigenous other side of the story written about.
I attended school at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission on the Pine Ridge Reservation. In our history classes we were never told that just 15 miles down the road from the school was the place where the worst massacre in the history of America happened. Most of us Native Americans had to learn our own history after we left school. In fact, there were a lot of terrible things that happened to the indigenous people after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but much of it is not taught in America's classrooms.
Twenty-five years ago I wrote about America, from an indigenous perspective, that your heroes are not necessarily our heroes. The same can be said from the perspective of the Black community.
From a historical point of view, Chris Rock spoke the truth and if he is to be chastised for that then those offering the criticism should ask themselves whether what he said was the truth.
If he is lying then our history books are wrong on more than one count.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born and educated on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was founder of the Native American Journalists Association and of Indian Country Today newspaper. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991.
Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
Follow Tim Giago on Twitter: www.twitter.com/N/A