Speech by Mahtowin Munro, co-chair of United American Indians of New England, on Nov. 27 at the Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Mass. To see a video of her talk, go to youtu.be/oOd1rASb5s8
Greetings to the people from the Four Directions who are here today and listening elsewhere!
We want to welcome all the Indigenous people who are here. We stand here in solidarity with the struggles of Indigenous peoples throughout the world.
We greet our many allies from the African diaspora, whether you are from Dorchester or Jamaica or Nigeria. We welcome all of our Latino and Asian and Arab allies. We send a special shoutout to our Palestinian sisters and brothers, whose struggle is the same as ours. I saw a sign earlier: From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation is a crime. Yeah, that’s right. We welcome everyone here from the Two-Spirit community. We welcome our many white allies. We say “Bonjour” to our Haitian friends. Thanks to all who have traveled a long distance and sacrificed to get here, to be a part of National Day of Mourning.
And we also have an extra warm welcome today for our union sisters and brothers, especially those who are here from Boston School Bus Drivers Local 8751. I mention this because Stevan Kirschbaum and Steve Gillis and Bobby Traynham and many other school bus drivers have been with us in Plymouth every year, helping in every possible way. They have been locked in an immense struggle for more than a year with the city of Boston and the multinational corporation Veolia, fighting to get jobs back for their fired union leadership and to get the frame-up charges against Kirschbaum dropped.
We are gathered into the circle now. We think today of so many who cannot be with us, whether they are ill or could not travel or whether they are imprisoned. We remember the homeless people, especially those who were staying at the Long Island Shelter in Boston and have been displaced even from there — and yet the city government thinks it is okay for us to waste billions on having the Olympics in Boston.
We feel the presence of many who have gone before us into the spirit world. Think now of the spirit who is standing beside you.
We think of the many murdered and missing Indigenous women whose lives have been lost in the epidemic of violence directed against Native women.
We think of the 43 students missing in Ayotzinapa, in Mexico, and of the thousands more who have vanished, mostly because of U.S. economic and drug policy.
We think of the families in Washington state, trying to heal from the school shooting near the Tulalip reservation there.
We think of the families that have been torn apart because of the deportation policies of the U.S. government, and of the people who have died in the desert trying to get here.
‘We think of occupied Ferguson’
We think of Michael Brown and the people of occupied Ferguson, and we think of all of the young men and the young women, the children, who have been murdered by the police. No mother anywhere should ever have to mourn the death of a child due to the violence of the state. We demand an end to “stop and frisk” and to the ongoing violence against Black and Brown women and men in the United States.
Most of us here are not very complicated in our needs. We want to love whoever we want, raise our families in peace, drink clean water, eat nourishing food, breathe clean air. We need jobs and decent schools. We need more affordable housing. We need to make a living wage with real benefits.
As I was cooking food yesterday for our potluck, I was thinking about how food or the lack of it has been used as a weapon against us for centuries. George Washington ordered the burning of Haudenosaunee towns and cornfields, this Town Destroyer destroying at least 50 villages and causing hundreds to starve and freeze to death.
The U.S. government intentionally nearly exterminated the buffalo so that people on the Plains would starve. Destroying our food supply and starving our people was business as usual for the U.S. government, yet they will not acknowledge genocide. We recently saw confirmation in Canada that scientists used to go to reserves and residential schools to perform nutrition experiments on Native children and adults in the 1940s and 1950s, intentionally depriving people who were already hungry of sufficient food and nutrients, to see what would happen. But the Canadian government says there was no genocide.
I hear some of the politicians and media keep talking about looting lately, since property is clearly more important to them than human lives. I wonder how they can talk about looting. These are people who live on stolen land, in a country built by stolen labor, fueled by raw materials and resources stolen from other countries. Now that is looting.
Here we are, looking over the beautiful water in Plymouth Harbor. Water is what we live in before we are born … what our bodies are largely made of. The corporations are poisoning the water and the earth, truly poisoning our mother.
Indigenous people on front lines
Indigenous people are on the front lines of hundreds of struggles against corporate pollution and environmental destruction, whether the Tar Sands or uranium mining or fracking or spill off into communities near lakes. Many of you have heard of the Keystone XL pipeline. We have had a victory and have been able to halt the Keystone XL pipeline, for now. But there will be more votes coming up on that, no doubt, and at least a dozen more pipelines are in the works. An 11-year-old girl and dozens more people were arrested this past week in protests over an expanded pipeline at Burnaby Mountain near Vancouver.
In North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan, the Bakken oil fields are assaulting the land and air and the water under the ground. A handful of people are profiting from this, without concern for the future. Too many of our communities now are overrun with violence, with meth and heroin addictions, which can seem like another epidemic for us, like smallpox.
Well, it is all too easy for us to talk about the many negative things that our people deal with. But I also see youth who are serious and working hard to get an education so that they can serve their people. I see elders who stop and take the time to teach the youth important things that will carry them into the future. There is so much beauty in our cultures.
We can seek inspiration from the heroic youth and students who are largely leading the way in the life and death struggle to save the earth. Youth and students are leading the way in the protests against police brutality — from Oakland to D.C., from Ferguson to New York City and Boston. Just this past Tuesday night [Nov. 25], thousands of people turned out in Boston, and in New York City protesters blocked many streets and bridges. Today, we understand that #Blacklivesmatter called for people to disrupt the Macy’s “Thanksgiving Day” parade.
Sometimes things seem so hard, like it’s not ever going to get better. But things can and must change. We have no right to give up, to lose hope, to stop struggling. We have an obligation to resist. From Ferguson to Plymouth, resistance is our right.