Editor’s Note: The Chiricahua are Apache Native Americans based in the Southwest U.S. When I came across their ‘Unanimous Declaration of Independence’ online, issued on May 14, 2007, I called one of the numbers they have listed on the website of the Chiricahua Apache ND Nation to find out who the authors were and learn more about what their goal is in issuing this declaration. I spoke with someone who identified himself only as Charlie. I tried to pin him down about who the authors were — to which he replied, “the people, all the people.” To Charlie, modern declarations like that of the Chiricahua are being produced because we we still have not come close to reaching “an understanding of a perfect foundation” for what governance should be all about. Charlie says the drafters of this declaration drew their inspiration from the Iroquois confederacy of old and its exemplary constitution and way of governance. One of our Constitution’s principal Framers, Ben Franklin, was deeply influenced by the practices of governance of the Iroquois, who’d had a democracy for centuries before his time. [Moreover, while our July 4, 1776 Declaration refers to Native Americans as “merciless savages,” Franklin noted that this, to say the very least, can cut both ways: “Savages we call them,” he wrote, “because their manners differ from ours, which we think the Perfection of Civility; they think the same of theirs.” Translation: the ‘perfect civility’ of whites towards Native Americans too often could be perceived in act and deed as as ‘savagery.’]
May 14, 2007,
When in the course of history it becomes necessary for one people to shuffle off their status as a domestic dependency and to assume among other nations the separate and equal station to which positive laws and the laws of nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of humanity requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We the people hold these truths to be self-evident: that all people, Indian and non-Indian, are created equal by the Creator, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, property, and culture. To secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, and whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right as well as the duty of the people to alter or to abolish it, or to modify their relationship to it in order to establish a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and to preserve their national identity.
The desire for peace requires that claims of sovereignty long established should not be modified or challenged for light and transient causes. But the need for justice is even greater, and when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce a people and maintain them under conditions of dependency, poverty, and cultural deprivation, it is their right, it is their duty, to modify their relationship to such a government and to provide new institutions for their future security, prosperity, and cultural integrity. Such has been the patient sufferance of the Nde Nation for more than two centuries, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their relationship to the United States. The history of U.S. treatment of the Nde Nation is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all directed to the depopulation and expropriation of Nde lands and the destruction of Nde government and culture. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world:
III. Bill of Particulars
The U.S. has employed the legal fiction of “discovery” to claim ultimate title to the lands granted us by the Creator, which range from southeastern Arizona near present-day Nogales and then north and east into New Mexico to the vicinity of present-day Los Lunas and then south to the vicinity of present-day El Paso and then west to the vicinity of Nogales.
The U.S. has imposed alien rule and colonies throughout our lands by way of aggressive and genocidal wars, and now maintains settlers upon our lands without our consent while denying us the power of jurisdiction over them.
The U.S. has repeatedly effected the involuntary resettlement of Chiricahua Apache people and the division and dispersion of the Nde Nation to deprive us of our rights to political, economic, and cultural association, and to further injure us in the possession of our ancestral lands.
The U.S., without trial or judicial process, incarcerated our ancestors and deliberately subjected them to starvation and diseases to further reduce our population, and continues to deny any legal responsibility to provide a remedy.
The U.S. has taken Chiricahua Apache children away from their families for the express purpose of alienating future generations from their ancestors and thereby eroding the culture and political integrity of the Nde Nation.
The U.S. has unlawfully claimed the plenary power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever and has impose its laws upon the Nde Nation, a sovereign people, against our will and in contravention of international law.
The U.S. has interfered with the exercise of our independent and natural political powers to make those laws which we deem wholesome and necessary for the good of the Nde Nation.
The U.S. has used a system known as “federal Indian law” as a weapon to facilitate and ratify centuries of military and judicial assaults on the sovereignty of the Nde Nation, and to foreclose remedies for its misconduct.
The U.S. has disrupted and prohibited the trade of the Nde Nation with our ancestral trading partners across the North and Central American continent.
The U.S. has imposed taxes upon us without our consent.
The U.S. has plundered our lands for their natural resources and taken from future generations their material and spiritual patrimony.
IV. Ndeh Independence
For each of these oppressions the Nde Nation has petitioned for redress only to be denied a remedy. This causes us great pain, for at its best, and despite its imperfections, the U.S. is an exceptional and decent nation. We seek peace and prosperity together with all people and all nations, and many of us are citizens of the United States even as we are members of the Nde Nation. Accordingly, even now if the U.S. were to acknowledge, recognize responsibility for, and repair the gross injustices suffered by the Nde Nation, the Nde Nation stands willing to grant forgiveness. The U.S. and the Nde Nation can build a relationship that advances on the basis of a recognition of, and respect for, mutual sovereignties, with disputes resolved not by coercion and domination but by negotiation and harmonization, and by the full flowering of justice and prosperity of both peoples. A new era of just peace and brotherhood can and should follow.
Until then, however, we must conclude, therefore, as the author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, did so powerfully more than two centuries ago, that we are obliged to hold the U.S., “as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.”
We, therefore, the Representatives of the Nde Nation, in Council, appealing to Ussen to make pure our aims and powerful our actions, in the name, and by authority of, the people of the Nde Nation, solemnly publish and declare that the Nde Nation, which consists of a population, a territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into international relations, is and of right ought to be a free, independent, and sovereign nation. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Ussen, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
Photo credit: “DragoonMountains” by Wilson44691 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DragoonMountains.JPG#mediaviewer/File:DragoonMountains.JPG
Chiricahua Nation Reunification: http://www.chiricahuaapache.org/downloads/UN-6th-session-Chiricahua-Statements.htm
Iroquois Constitution: A Forerunner to Colonists’ Democratic Principles, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/28/us/iroquois-constitution-a-forerunner-to-colonists-democratic-principles.html