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Plymouth, Mass.: Hundreds honor Day of Mourning

Published Nov 29, 2007 1:32 AM

Plymouth, Mass., Nov. 22.
WW photos: Liz Green

Hundreds of Native people and their supporters gathered in Plymouth, Mass., on Nov. 22 to commemorate the 38th National Day of Mourning. Day of Mourning has been held annually since 1970 on U.S. thanksgiving day to provide a forum for Indigenous people to speak the truth about the history of this country and to speak out about current conditions in Indian Country. Participants, led by members of United American Indians of New England, marched to protest the lies told about thanksgiving and the European theft of the Americas and held a rally at the site of Plymouth Rock.

Mahtowin Munro with her children:
Womsikuk James (cap) and Ki’sha James.

Moonanum James (Aquinnah Wampanoag), co-leader of UAINE, corrected some of the thanksgiving mythology that is customarily taught in schools.

“The pilgrims, like Columbus, did not discover an empty land. Every inch of this land was, and remains, Indian land. The pilgrims (who did not even call themselves pilgrims) came over here as part of a business venture and not seeking religious freedom—they already had that in Holland. Sexism, racism, anti-lesbian and gay bigotry, jails and a class system did not exist here until introduced by the European invaders. The pilgrims were no better than any of the other Europeans in their treatment of the Indigenous people here. They killed Indians; they stole land; they tried to turn Indian people against each other.

Stephanie Hedgecoke

“The pilgrims did not even land at that sacred shrine down the hill called Plymouth Rock, a monument to racism and oppression.

“As soon as they stepped ashore, in present day Eastham down on Cape Cod, the pilgrims opened my ancestors’ graves and stole our corn and beans. Later, from Plymouth Harbor—the very harbor we can see from here—the English sold my ancestors as slaves for 220 shillings each.

“The first official ‘Day of Thanksgiving’ was proclaimed in 1637 by Governor Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of the men from Massachusetts who had gone to Mystic, Conn., to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children and men.

Moonanum James

“About the only true thing in the whole mythology is that these pitiful European strangers would not have survived their first several years in ‘New England’ were it not for the aid of Squanto, Massasoit, and other Wampanoag people. What Native people got in return for this help was genocide, theft of our lands, and never-ending repression. This is indeed ‘America’s Home Town.’”

A roar of laughter greeted James’ comment that since Plymouth was planning to demolish and rebuild the stone structure protecting Plymouth Rock, why not have UAINE tear it down for free.

The crowd listened quietly as a special message from Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier was read by Bert Waters (Wampanoag). Many were moved by Peltier’s expression of gratitude for the ongoing support for his freedom: “As I sit here in my cell, thinking about you and gathering my thoughts, I want to tell you how good it feels that after 30-plus years you still remember me. Your songs, prayers, thoughts, laughter, smiles, and support keep me strong.”

Juan Gonzalez

Speakers touched on many points, including the importance of supporting the anti-war movement as well as building ties of unity within Native communities and with non-Native allies. Mahtowin Munro (Lakota) emphasized the importance of supporting immigrant communities that are under attack by the government:

“What happened to the mostly Mayan sisters and brothers in New Bedford last March when Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided a factory there and separated parents from their families was not an anomaly. Massive raids continue to be carried out by ICE. In cities across the country, ICE is trying to push immigrant workers further underground and scare them away from organizing and fighting for their rights.

Elena Ortiz

“Those who dare to cross the U.S.-Mexican border face ICE and other federal agents, hovering customs helicopters, profiteering contractors, spy towers and federal ‘cage’ detention centers. Immigrant children are imprisoned by the federal government in the Hutto prison in Texas.

“But undocumented workers from Mexico and Central America and South America, joined by Caribbean, Asian, African and other allies, have fought back and will continue to do so. Step by step, day by day, this movement will grow.

Jesse Lokahi Heiwa

“All of our nations need to come together and stop what is being done to so-called illegal immigrants by this government of the pilgrims, by the pilgrims, for the pilgrims. We cannot stand by and allow this brutality to continue. Let’s tear down that wall that is being built on the U.S./Mexico border! Our future, and the very future of our Mother Earth, require us to join together!”

Other speakers included Elena Ortiz (Ohkay Owingeh), Stephanie Hedgecoke (Cherokee) and Jesse Lokahi Heiwa (Hawaiian). The ceremony was opened and closed by Juan Rodríguez and Rosalba Solís (Mayan). Rodríguez, who had recently returned from an encuentro in Mexico, called for a boycott of Mexican food products because of Mexico’s abuse of Indigenous peoples. César Villalobos of Inca Son played a song dedicated to Mother Earth on a Native flute.

Sam Sapiel, a Penobscot elder and medicine man who had opened National Day of Mourning for decades and who died in the spring, was honored. He was described as a good man, one who always urged younger people to remember their traditional Native ways and who built bridges to many other communities by his participation in countless progressive struggles over the years.