November 26 marked the 51st National Day of Mourning. The first was in 1970 when Aquinnah Wampanoag elder Wamsutta Frank James called Indigenous peoples and their supporters to “America’s Hometown.” The crowd joined the United American Indians of New England on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Mass., to expose the truth about the 400-year history of settler colonialism in this region.
Over 3,000 people participated in person or remotely. Attendees braved driving rain to proclaim: “Land Back, Now!” at the spot where the pilgrims’ “puritanical” militia posted Wampanoag leader Metacomet’s head on a pike in 1676 and left it there for 25 years to terrorize the population.
Kisha James, Wamsutta’s granddaughter, opened the commemoration with a history of UAINE’s militant response to Massachusetts Gov. Francis Sargent’s racist attempt to suppress her grandfather’s 1970 speech. He wrote it to deliver at Plymouth’s 350th founding anniversary at the state’s request.
Truth about ‘Thanks-taking’
James read Wamsutta’s speech while demonstrators occupied Plymouth Rock for the 51st time. (tinyurl.com/y2lcnrcn) She said it told the true story of the first “Thanks-taking,” refuting U.S. history books’ false mythology. These books replace the truth about the enslavement of African peoples, mass killings of the Indigenous population and land theft — which characterized colonists’ warfare from early Jamestown to Plymouth’s plantations in the Caribbean — with a story about a harvest dinner.
James asked, “What did we get in return for kindness? Genocide, the theft of our lands, slavery, starvation and never-ending oppression.”
Mahtowin Munro, UAINE co-leader, recalled activists climbing the fake replica of the Mayflower’s mast to hoist the American Indian Movement’s flag. She told of years of burying the rock, chasing “pilgrim progress” parades off the street, occupying “pilgrim” churches and taking over Main Street on Plymouth’s most lucrative holiday. They faced down dogs, teargas and a brutal 1997 police riot that resulted in the arrests of the “Plymouth 25” — UAINE elders, leaders and supporters. She led a shout-out to Moonanum James, Wamsutta’s son and UAINE co-leader, currently hospitalized.
NDOM participants visited sites liberated by the treaty that a worldwide boycott and defense campaign forced Plymouth’s town fathers to sign with UAINE in 1998. The frame-up charges of assault of cops were dropped, as were requirements for permits to march on Indigenous peoples’ own land. The town’s bankers and trinket sellers had to erect plaques written by UAINE on Cole’s Hill and Post Office Square, telling the Indigenous peoples’ truth about the genocide here and the Wampanoag Nation’s centuries-long resistance. (tinyurl.com/yxugn748)
‘The struggle will continue!’
Munro concluded, “We all know that racism is alive and well. We are struggling under an oppressive capitalist system that forces people to make a bitter choice between heating and eating. We will continue to gather on this hill until corporations and the U.S. military stop polluting the earth, until we dismantle the brutal apparatus of mass incarceration.
“We will not stop until the oppression of our Two Spirit siblings is a thing of the past, when unhoused peoples have homes, when children are no longer taken from their parents and locked in cages. And when Palestinians reclaim the homeland and autonomy Israel has denied them for 70 years, when no person goes hungry or dies due to lack of quality health care, when insulin is free, when union busting is a thing of the past. Until then the struggle will continue!”
Munro noted the importance of the “thanksgiving” myth to the current settler government in Washington, which attacks the Black Lives Matter rebellion and forcibly occupies Indigenous lands from Afghanistan to Palestine to Hawaii. Loud cheers greeted her salute to Evo Morales’ return to Bolivia from U.S. coup-imposed exile.
Indigenous women on frontlines
A program of powerful Indigenous women speakers shone a spotlight on today’s struggles of Indigenous peoples, who are on the frontlines fighting the ravages of the pandemic and capitalist greed.
Chali’Inaru Smilez Dones, United Confederation of Taíno People, brought federal political prisoner Leonard Peltier’s greetings: “We must unite and work together every chance we can . . . and embrace all others who are of like mind and willing to work to correct this worldwide pandemic of greed and selfishness that has infected the whole earth and mankind.” (tinyurl.com/y3t3fkwz)
Samantha Maltais, a young Aquinnah Wampanoag activist, told of founding #MayflowersKill after dancing at Pow Wows and being confronted with public schools’ racist curriculum. “Rename Custer Park” organizers Melanie Angel, Sharnell Cepa Seaboy and Erni Cankumaza traveled from North Dakota’s Great Plains to express solidarity.
Tela LandBack Troge and Kelly Haddo-Namo Jimoseyang-Tunuppasog of the Shinnecock Sovereignty Camp called for an to end to economic genocide and for the right to provide for their people, as they battle New York State to defend their sovereignty rights.
Dozens of solidarity messages and songs
Messages and prerecorded cultural performances were interspersed throughout the program from elders and supporters who were prevented from attending by the pandemic. These included Melissa Harding Ferretti, Chair of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe; Frank Waln, singing “My People Come from the Land”; Wade Fernandez of the Menominee Nation, who sang “We Wear Because We Care”; Skyler Williams, Six Nations of the Grand River; the Council of Maya Elders/Consejo de Ancianos; Nick Estes, Lower Brule Sioux, and Elena and Savannah Ortiz, Ohkay Owingeh, with The Red Nation; and Sheldon Raymore, Two Spirit, Cheyenne River Sioux.
Also, Khaled Barakat, Palestinian writer; BAYAN Philippines; Eli Pabon and #Bombantillana; Roberto Borrero, Taino Kasike; Matt Remle, Lakota, Defund Pipelines; singing by Jacinda Beals, Labrador; North American Megadam Resistance Alliance leaders; Eldred Mesher, Labrador; Sarah Wunderlich, Oneida, on nephew Jonathon Tubby’s death in police custody; Lucy Pagoada Quesada, Honduran Resistance Council and U.S./Canada Coordinator of the Libre Party, closing with the Maunakea movement’s anthem.
Bolstering NDOM’s liberation of stolen ground with 300 marchers was a solidarity force of thousands of supporters worldwide on livestream, produced by hate5six.com’s brilliant Sunny Singh, backed up by solidarity roadies from United Steelworkers Local 8751, the Dorchester Art Project and MIT’s WMBR. The recording with live ASL, posted at tinyurl.com/y2ngml22, has gotten 30,000 views.
Steve Gillis is the Financial Secretary of Steelworkers Local 8751 and a Plymouth 25 defendant.
Photo: Mairead Skehan Gillis