Thursday, November 27, 2003


Today, most of us (well, the Americans, anyway) will be spending time with family and friends, eating good food, and generally being thankful for any number of things.

And many of us (myself included) will also be telling ourselves that we aren't celebrating the "real" Thanksgiving and all its racist and genocidal history, but rather enjoying the long weekend that allows out-of-town friends and family to visit, the excuse to eat lots of good food, and treating it as any other holiday, with or without awareness of what this day has historically meant. Why should it be any different from the way we celebrate any other holiday -- Memorial Day, Labor Day, and (for some of us, at least) Christmas or Passover?

But today is not Thanksgiving for many of our fellow Americans. And, while I will be spending my time with friends and eating good food today, I would like to take a moment to reflect on another "holiday" taking place today.

This was written by a dear friend of mine, Nikkiru, and my thoughts will be with her today.

As many of you are aware, The official U.S. "Thanksgiving" is observed by many indigenous people and allies as the National Day of Mourning. Some may not be aware of the history behind that.

The first official "Day of Thanksgiving" in Massachusetts Bay Colony was proclaimed in 1637 by Governor Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of men from the Massachusetts Bay colony, who had gone to Mystic, Connecticut to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children, and men. Their homes were burned, and those who ran were shot down indiscriminately: the old, the young, the pregnant. Babies.

In 1970 Wamsutta Frank James, a Wampanoag man, was invited to speak at a state dinner in Plymouth, celebrating the 350th anniversary of the pilgrim landing. He refused to speak the words they wanted to put in his mouth, praising the colonists for bringing "civilisation" to the poor heathens. And so he left the hall and climbed Cole's Hill, near the statue of Sachem Massasoit, and gave his speech there. It was the first National Day of Mourning. Below are excerpts from that speech.

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you - celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.

Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt's Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry.

Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened in the last 300 years? History gives us facts and there were atrocities; there were broken promises - and most of these centered around land ownership. Among ourselves we understood that there were boundaries, but never before had we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned. Only ten years later, when the Puritans came, they treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting the souls of the so-called "savages." Although the Puritans were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any other "witch."


There are some factors concerning the Wampanoags and other Indians across this vast nation. We now have 350 years of experience living amongst the white man. We can now speak his language. We can now think as a white man thinks. We can now compete with him for the top jobs. We're being heard; we are now being listened to. The important point is that along with these necessities of everyday living, we still have the spirit, we still have the unique culture, we still have the will and, most important of all, the determination to remain as Indians. We are determined, and our presence here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning of the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to regain the position in this country that is rightfully ours.


There are still gatheringas on Cole's Hill every year. Others observe the Day of Mourning by prayer and fasting. For more information, see the United American Indians of New England (UAINE).

The 34th National Day of Mourning is scheduled for Nov. 27, 2003, 12:00 noon, on Coles Hill in Plymouth, MA.

In the spirit of Metacom.

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