Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning for Indians
Published Nov 24, 2008 9:19 PM
Following are excerpts from a statement written by Mahtowin Munro
(Lakota) and Moonanum James (Wampanoag), co-leaders of United American Indians
of New England. Read the entire statement at www.uaine.org.
Every year since 1970, United American Indians of New England have organized
the National Day of Mourning observance in Plymouth at noon on Thanksgiving
Day. Every year, hundreds of Native people and our supporters from all four
directions join us. Every year, including this year, Native people from
throughout the Americas will speak the truth about our history and about
current issues and struggles we are involved in.
Why do hundreds of people stand out in the cold rather than sit home eating
turkey and watching football? Do we have something against a harvest
Of course not. But Thanksgiving in this country—and in particular in
Plymouth—is much more than a harvest home festival. It is a celebration
of pilgrim mythology.
According to this mythology, the pilgrims arrived, the Native people fed them
and welcomed them, the Indians promptly faded into the background, and everyone
lived happily ever after.
The pilgrims are glorified and mythologized because the circumstances of the
first English-speaking colony in Jamestown were frankly too ugly (for example,
they turned to cannibalism to survive) to hold up as an effective national
The pilgrims did not find an empty land any more than Columbus
“discovered” anything. Every inch of this land is Indian land. The
pilgrims (who did not even call themselves pilgrims) did not come here seeking
religious freedom; they already had that in Holland.
They came here as part of a commercial venture. They introduced sexism, racism,
anti-lesbian and -gay bigotry, jails and the class system to these shores. One
of the very first things they did when they arrived on Cape Cod—before
they even made it to Plymouth—was to rob Wampanoag graves at Corn Hill
and steal as much of the Indians’ winter provisions of corn and beans as
they were able to carry.
They were no better than any other group of Europeans when it came to their
treatment of the Indigenous peoples here. And, no, they did not even land at
that sacred shrine called Plymouth Rock, a monument to racism and oppression
which we are proud to say we buried in 1995.
The first official “Day of Thanksgiving” 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, Conn., to participate in the
massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children and men.
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 Wampanoag people. What Native people
got in return for this help was genocide, theft of our lands and never-ending
repression. We are either treated as quaint relics from the past or are, to
most people, virtually invisible.
When we dare to stand up for our rights, we are considered unreasonable. When
we speak the truth about the history of the European invasion, we are often
told to “go back where we came from.” Our roots are right here.
They do not extend across any ocean.
National Day of Mourning began in 1970 when a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta Frank
James, was asked to speak at a state dinner celebrating the 350th anniversary
of the pilgrim landing. He refused to speak false words in praise of the white
man for bringing civilization to us poor heathens. Native people from
throughout the Americas came to Plymouth where they mourned their forebears who
had been sold into slavery, burned alive, massacred, cheated and mistreated
since the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620.
But the commemoration of National Day of Mourning goes far beyond the
circumstances of 1970.
Can we give thanks as we remember Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier,
who was framed up by the FBI and has been falsely imprisoned since 1976?
Despite mountains of evidence exonerating Peltier and the proven misconduct of
federal prosecutors and the FBI, Peltier has been denied a new trial.
To Native people, the case of Peltier is one more ordeal in a litany of
wrongdoings committed by the U.S. government against us. While the media in New
England present images of the “Pequot miracle” in Connecticut, the
vast majority of Native people continue to live in the most abysmal
Can we give thanks for the fact that, on many reservations, unemployment rates
surpass 50 percent? Our life expectancies are much lower, our infant mortality
and teen suicide rates much higher than those of white Americans. Racist
stereotypes of Native people, such as those perpetuated by the Cleveland
Indians, the Atlanta Braves and countless local and national sports teams,
persist. Every single one of the more than 350 treaties that Native nations
signed has been broken by the U.S. government. The bipartisan budget cuts have
severely reduced educational opportunities for Native youth and the development
of new housing on reservations, and have caused cause deadly cutbacks in
healthcare and other necessary services.
Are we to give thanks for being treated as unwelcome in our own country?
When the descendants of the Aztec, Maya and Inca flee to the U.S., the
descendants of the wash-ashore pilgrims term them “illegal aliens”
and hunt them down.
We object to the “Pilgrim Progress” parade and to what goes on in
Plymouth because they are making millions of tourist dollars every year from
the false pilgrim mythology. That money is being made off the backs of our
slaughtered Indigenous ancestors.
Increasing numbers of people are seeking alternatives to such holidays as
Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. They are coming to the conclusion that if we are
ever to achieve some sense of community, we must first face the truth about the
history of this country and the toll that history has taken on the lives of
millions of Indigenous, Black, [email protected], Asian, and poor and working-class white
The myth of Thanksgiving, served up with dollops of European superiority and
manifest destiny, just does not work for many people in this country. As
Malcolm X once said about the African-American experience in America, “We
did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.” Exactly.
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