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  • Writer's pictureSean Sherman

A Call for a Truth & Reconciliation Commission for Black & Indigenous peoples in the USA

Updated: Jul 6

A Black & Indigenous perspective & review of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2023

by Sean Sherman ( / The Sioux Chef) and Mecca Bos (BIPOC Foodways Alliance)

On this day, July 4th, 2023, 247 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, now is the time to address the hard truths of our American history.

All over America, states and legislators are pushing to re-whitewash an already whitewashed history.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, perhaps the most famous quote from the 1776 Declaration of Independence—is a sentiment that was never meant to include Indigenous or Black people living in the newly forming nation of America.

The history of the creation of this document was largely in retaliation to King George III's 1763 Proclamation, which prohibited colonial settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains and granted all land with rivers that flow into the Mississippi as Native lands. This was an attempt to maintain order and reduce conflict with the Indigenous people who rightfully mistrusted the European colonists who were poised to continue their illegal land grabs.

The Declaration of Independence is the document written in response to the king's orders to stop the westward expansion of the colonists.

Authors of the Declaration of Independence, including Thomas Jefferson, were well-known land surveyors, illegally scoping out prime land spaces with the sole purpose of gaining wealth.

They were infuriated by the king’s imposition on their intended land thefts, and wrote the Declaration of Independence as a set of grievances against the crown.

This document laid the racist foundation of what America is today. Written by white men, reflecting the racist, Eurocentric views of its authors, the Declaration's 27th grievance against King George III accused him of inciting "domestic insurrections" and "bringing on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages."

This language dehumanized Native Americans, justifying their invasion and occupation of Indigenous land.

The Declaration's assertion that "all men are created equal" was also used to justify the enslavement of Black people, who were not considered to be fully human. The constitution's clause prohibiting congress from abolishing slavery until 1808 effectively ensured that slavery would continue in the United States for many years to come.

The legacy of this slavery and white supremacy in the United States is still felt today, in many, many of our institutions and systems.

Thanks to this history, Black and Indigenous people continue to face discrimination and state sponsored violence, and we are disproportionately represented in poverty, and incarceration rates.

The residual racial biases that were present at the founding of the United States are still openly blatant in today's America.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to acknowledge and address the history of racism and discrimination in the United States. This movement has led to a number of important changes, including the removal of confederate statues and the uprisings introduced by the Black Lives Matter movement and The Fight for Standing Rock.

We must continue to work to dismantle the systems of racism and white supremacy that oppress Black and Indigenous people. We must educate ourselves about the history of racism in the United States and the ways it perpetuates harm.

Only by doing this can we create a more just and equitable society for all.

It is long past time for America and the US Government to come to terms with its violent and racist history.

It must acknowledge its beginnings—the genocide and illegal land theft of the Indigenous inhabitants whose thriving communities still resist today—and the enslavement of millions of Africans and Indigenous people.

It must take steps to never forget these atrocities.

And it must make reparations for the immense generational wealth created and inherited by European descendants as a direct result of these actions.

We must name this for what it is and the lasting harm it has caused: American Colonialism.

A short list of American atrocities with little to no reparations to date:

  • The Treaty of Paris 1783: this treaty illegally grants the US ownership of land spaces between the Appalachian mountains and Mississippi River (Ohio Valley) without consent of the Indigenous communities, and those lands were never the property of England to give, let alone the newly formed US Government to receive. King George III’s 1763 Proclamation granted that land ownership to the Indigenous populations giving them all the land with rivers that drain into the Mississippi River.

  • Slavery: The institution of slavery, which denied African and Indigenous Americans their basic human rights and subjected them to unspeakable brutality and dehumanization.

  • Bounty Systems: Financial encouragement and justification for the systematic decimation and genocide of Black and Indigenous peoples.

  • Indian Removal Act: The racist federal policy that forcibly relocated Native American tribes, leading to the theft and dispossession of their homelands causing widespread suffering must be reviewed.

  • Indian boarding schools and assimilation efforts: The forced assimilation of Native American children in government-run boarding schools, where they experienced cultural erasure, physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse and death.

  • Indian Adoption era 1941-1967: One out of three Native people placed into non-Indigenous families, another form of cultural erasure.

  • Jim Crow Laws: State and local laws enforcing racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans, denying them equal rights and opportunities.

  • Justification of Black and Indigenous Massacres (eg: Sand Creek, Wounded Knee, Whitestone Hill, Tulsa Race Massacre: The brutal massacres of men, women, children and babies by white US military and white civilian forces.

  • Redlining: Systemic practices that denied loans, housing, and resources to African American communities, perpetuating economic disparities and segregation.

  • Forced sterilization: The coerced sterilization of thousands of Native American women as part of eugenics programs aimed at population control.

  • Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: A medical study conducted on African American men without their informed consent, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.

  • Displacement of Native American sacred sites: The destruction and desecration of sacred sites through development projects, disregarding tribal cultural significance. (eg: Bear's Ears, Devil's Tower)

  • Urban Renewal and Gentrification: Systemic practices that deny loans, housing, and resources to African American communities, perpetuating economic disparities and segregation including government-led initiatives displacing and and marginalizing predominantly Black and Indigenous communities.

  • Discriminatory Voting Practices: Systematic efforts to suppress the voting rights of African Americans and Native Americans through poll taxes, literacy tests, and other discriminatory measures.

  • Environmental Racism: The disproportionate burden of environmental pollution and hazardous waste on Black and Indigenous communities.

  • The Black Codes: Post-Civil War laws that restricted the rights and freedoms of African Americans, perpetuating racial subjugation.

  • Land Dispossession and Violation of Treaty Rights: The loss of Native American lands through broken treaties, forced relocations, and encroachment by settlers.

  • Systemic Racism in Criminal Justice and Disproportionate Incarceration: The racial bias and discriminatory practices within the criminal justice system that disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous Americans. This includes the disproportionate incarceration and racial profiling of Black and Indigenous Americans.

  • Cultural Appropriation: The appropriation of Native American cultural symbols, practices, and artifacts without permission or respect for their significance.

  • Anti-Miscegenation Laws: Laws that prohibited interracial marriage and relationships, reinforcing racial hierarchies and stigmatizing mixed-race individuals.

  • Northwest Ordinance of 1779, this ordinance lays out the justification for the violent overtaking of Indigenous land spaces and its commodification.


  1. Formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations against Black and Indigenous Americans from 1776 to today :This process could involve public hearings, testimonies, and a focus on healing, justice, and reconciliation. This includes a public apology by the United States Government.

  2. Reparations through Litigation and Legislative Action: These legal efforts could hold the U.S. government accountable for its past actions, seeking financial compensation, and demanding policy changes to address systemic inequalities. Legislation would also be introduced to provide financial compensation, educational initiatives, healthcare access, land restitution, and other forms of redress.

  3. Community Development and Investment: Reparations can take the form of targeted investments in marginalized communities to address systemic inequalities and uplift the affected populations. This could include funding for education, job creation, affordable housing, healthcare, and infrastructure development.

  4. Land Restitution and Sovereignty for Native American Tribes: land restitution and recognition of tribal sovereignty are crucial aspects of reparations. Efforts could be made to return ancestral lands, support tribal self-governance, and strengthen the preservation of Indigenous cultures and languages.

  5. Educational Initiatives: Reparations would include educational initiatives to promote an accurate and inclusive understanding of our shared history. This could involve curriculum reforms that teach the full scope of American history, including the experiences and contributions of Black and Indigenous peoples. The re-whitewashing of American history and removal of mentions of race must not be tolerated.

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