As we celebrate our nation’s declaration of independence from Great Britain 239 years ago, it is a good time to take a moment and reflect on the nature and virtue of patriotism, past and present, and the meaning of America’s July 4th holiday.
Since that inspired day on July 4th, 1776, many millions have fought for the ideals of freedom and democracy that we hold dear, whether on battlefields, on streets, in courtrooms, or in capitol buildings. Though there is a vast diversity of goals and beliefs among those willing to take a stand and hold America to its highest virtues, patriotism is the common thread that binds us all.
Patriotism is often defined as love for or devotion to one’s homeland. It gives us a sense of belonging and pride in our roots, our culture, our “home team”. But patriotism is a virtue protected and strengthened in different ways. Whether it be the soldiers who serve and who give their lives defending our way of life or the protestors who demand our leaders and laws live up to, or even improve upon, our nation’s ideals, each demonstrates a passion for our homeland in spite of its struggles missteps along the path of history.
Is it no wonder then that patriotism is a virtue of Native Americans? No group, ethnicity, or race can claim a greater devotion to this land we call America than those who were its first inhabitants. From long before the first boats landed on our eastern shores, Native Americans have embodied bravery, heroism, and love for the land for thousands of years. These deep roots that reach back millennia offer a great example of what patriotism means today.
Like patriotism, a common thread running through Native American cultures is a belief that the land is a sacred, living being that is to be cared for and treated with respect, dignity, reverence, and honor. Many Native American tribes host ceremonies that are tied to the land and their way of life. Often, these traditions and ceremonies are connected to specific qualities about the land they called home. To Native Americans, Land and Culture are intertwined, a vital piece of who they are.
In spite of the destructive past that the American government has had with Native Americans, this is their home. Rooted in their own cultural identity in America, they are neighbors, partners, and leaders that embrace local, state, and American symbols of freedom, service, and patriotism.
In fact, taken as a whole, Native Americans have the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population to defending the United States as members of the Armed Services. To this day, there are many examples of modern Native American heroes who have been recognized for their courage and service as champions of Independence. During World Wars I and II, Code Talkers scrambled messages between American forces, which gave them a significant advantage over the enemy. Ira Hayes, a member of the Gila River Indian Community, was one of the brave soldiers who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima. Lori Piestewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe, was the first Native American woman to die in combat. There are also many Native Americans who have received the Medal of Honor fighting alongside their American brothers and sisters.
This Fourth of July, as we reflect on those who have fought to protect our Independence, both Native and Non-Native alike, let us celebrate the innate and binding patriotism of all those who came before. At its core, patriotism is the celebration and love of our land, those who bravely fight to protect and improve it, and the heroism and love of country we all share.