The Native American Community on the Fourth

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The Native American Community on the Fourth

The Native American Indian Center of Boston.

The Native American Indian Center of Boston.

The Native American Indian Center of Boston.

The Native American Indian Center of Boston.

Avani Kalra, NECIR Summer Journalism Student, Student at Francis W. Parker High School, Writer at The Parker Weekly, Former Staff Writer/Copy Editor, Present Editor in Chief at The Weekly

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The Native American Indian Center of Boston.

Many Americans have their own tradition for the Fourth of July. Some watch fireworks, some attend parades, some read the Declaration of Independence. For members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Fourth of July for the past 97 years has entailed preparing for their annual Powwow.

“The Fourth of July is a homecoming for our tribe,” said Michelle M. Hughes, a tribe member and a director at Boston’s North American Indian Center. We have a Pow Wow every year around the Fourth, and we spend all year preparing for it. It is sort of a religious experience.”

Around 300 tribe members gather together for food, dance, song, music, and traditional competitions and games for three days. Held on tribal lands, the Powwow begins with the “Grand Entry”––the entering of all participants and visitors into the arena. Many flags are brought to the ceremony, including the U.S. flag, tribal flags, the Pow flag, and the Eagle Staffs of the Native Nations present. Each flag is carried by a veteran.

“A high percentage of the Native American community are veterans, including my own father,” Hughes said. “I’ve come to rest with what the flag means to me, even though when I was younger I would never wear red, white, and blue because I was Native American.”

The carrying of the American flag is a reminder of the veterans’ service, as well as the government’s treatment of Native Americans, the tribe’s website says.

Historically, Native Americans have come second to European settlers in the United States. The Declaration of Independence refers to Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages,” just thirty lines below the famous quote, “all men are created equal.”

Although she is still not completely patriotic, Hughes says she doesn’t see a problem with people having pride in their country, given the diversity throughout the country.

But, despite their patriotism, Hughes feels the voices of Native Americans are not being heard. “We are a protected class of people who deserve to continue to be protected, and we deserve representation in the state of Massachusetts,” Hughes said. “We should be the first thought of.”

There has been a shift with the Trump administration. “The new administration is disheartening,” Hughes said. “Trump isn’t at all culturally connected, and it feels like we have to prove we get a place in office. The climate has definitely changed.”

A lack of respect from spectators who attend the Powwow is a result of this new climate, Hughes thinks. “We have a big problem with pictures,” she said. “A lot of these rituals are sacred and important and the public will just take pictures.”

As Powwow started the fifth, Hughes spent her Fourth of July preparing for the next day, and ended by watching fireworks on the beach with her children. She sees no issue with celebrating the holiday as a Native American.

“Independence day is independence day, and it means something different for everyone. Our traditions and our customs shouldn’t be forced on anyone else’s and anyone else’s shouldn’t be forced on us. But I think history shouldn’t stop us from celebrating the day completely,” she said.

Hughes believes that the flag has a different meaning to her than it does for other citizens, however: “I used to think freedom, but I don’t feel it’s freedom anymore. It’s a privileged society. And if you’re smart enough, or educated enough, you get the abundance of what the American flag brings you. ”