‘We have survived and flourished’: Massive turnout on National Day of Mourning
Kisha James (Aquinnah Wampanoag and Oglala Lakota), co-leader of United American Indians of New England (UAINE), opened the rally by telling the history of NDOM, which was founded in 1970 by her grandfather, the late Wamsutta Frank James.
Kisha James quoted an account of the first NDOM by Russell Means of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who described the first NDOM as: “a day American Indians won’t forget. We went to Plymouth for a purpose: to mourn since the landing of the Pilgrims the repression of the American Indian and to indict the hypocrisy of a system that glorifies that repression.”
James went on to demolish the Thanksgiving legend, which remains the cornerstone of U.S. settler-colonial ideology. Far from being havens of “religious freedom,” as bourgeois historians insist, the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies were genocidal theocracies financed by the trade in enslaved people and built on stolen Wampanoag, Massachusett, Nauset, Nipmuc and Pennacook lands.
The story that the first official “Thanksgiving” took place in 1621 is likewise a fabrication. In reality, Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop proclaimed a “Day of Thanksgiving” in 1637 to “celebrate” the massacre of over 700 Pequot on the shore of the Mystic River.
“When people celebrate the myth of Thanksgiving, they are not only erasing our genocide but celebrating it,” said James. “We did not simply fade into the background, as the Thanksgiving myth says. We have survived and flourished. We have persevered. The very fact that you are here is proof that we did not vanish. Our very presence frees this land from the lies of the history books and the mythmakers.”
Mahtowin Munro (Oglala Lakota), co-leader of UAINE, highlighted ongoing Indigenous resistance to capitalism’s genocidal assault on their sovereign nations. While bourgeois world leaders ignore the worsening climate crisis, strip mining, fracking and oil and gas pipelines continue to ravage Native lands and poison water sources throughout the world.
As Munro emphasized, tribal sovereignty is facing an unprecedented threat from a reactionary campaign, backed by Big Oil, that seeks to repeal the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). ICWA has provided Indigenous families vital protections from the U.S. racist foster care system and Christian adoption agencies, which have kidnapped Native children from their families, nations and cultures for decades.
Munro demanded the return of all sacred Indigenous funerary items and human remains looted by U.S. institutions, the abolition of settler-colonial borders and ICE’s racist state-terror regime, and the full restoration of sovereign Indigenous territories.
“Our ancestors always taught us to demand the return of our lands,” said Munro. “It is not a new idea. The land and water are in our blood and bones, part of our bodies, and we have never forgotten that.”
Stressing the right to sovereignty
Juan Gonzalez (Maya), spoke on behalf of The Council of Maya Elders. Using Mayan and Zapatista resistance to Mexican state terror as an example, Gonzalez emphasized the need for Indigenous self-determination and autonomous organization in the fight against settler colonialism and resurgent fascism.
Leoyla Cowboy (Dinè), a member of the Indigenous revolutionary collective The Red Nation, demanded the release of AIM activist Leonard Peltier (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians). Peltier has been a political prisoner for 47 years.
Herbert Waters IV (Wampanoag) read Peltier’s annual NDOM statement. “Our people have been through a lot,” Peltier wrote. “Generations have been imprisoned, beaten, murdered, dispossessed of our lands, and they fought so we might live. We are proud of our ancestors. I have tried to make the best of my time upon the Earth, in my given circumstances.
“To say the least, this has not been an enjoyable life journey, but I am proud to have been given a chance to stand for our people. I encourage you to do the same. I am not a speaker, but I have spoken, I am not a leader, but I have led. Having said this, knowing what I know now, feeling what I’ve felt, seeing what I’ve seen and hearing what I have heard, I would do it all over again.”
Justine Teba (Pueblos of Santa Clara, Tesque, and Acoma), a member of The Red Nation, spoke about the Red Deal program to protect climate, biodiversity and Indigenous sovereignty, by dismantling the imperialist global system of capitalism and settler colonialism.
“We as Indigenous people are being racialized as merely Indigenous, when we are our own nations with our own citizens,” said Teba. “And it’s that nationhood and that sovereignty that The Red Nation believes in.”
From Cole’s Hill protesters marched to the site of Plymouth Rock, a pebble enshrined to settler-colonial genocide, to hear further speeches. Samantha Maltais (Aquinnah Wampanoag) discussed the struggle of Indigenous nations to protect their lands from the degradation brought by climate change and maintain tribal sovereignty within the U.S.’ inherently racist legal framework.
“Today is not just simply a way to remember history but to assert ourselves as the resilient people who are fighting colonialism every single day,” Maltais said.
Alberto Barreto Cardonas traveled from Boriken (Puerto Rico) to urge solidarity with people there in their battle against Wall Street-backed colonial exploitation and for their campaign for independence from the U.S. metropole.
Tylee Nez (Dinè) spoke about Indigenous student activism and the environmental racism experienced by Indigenous communities. Ayeta Aronson (United Houma Nation), a member of the Bulbancha Collective, discussed the Collective’s work combating the anti-Indigenous discrimination and ecological violence inflicted by the fossil-fuel industry on Indigenous nations in Louisiana.
The march ended at Post Office Square, where Massachusetts Bay colonists displayed the head of 17th century Wampanoag leader Metacomet, who led Native resistance to settler death squads during “King Philip’s War.”
At the Square, Beyon Wren Moor (Pimicikimak Cree) discussed their work defending the Yintah, the unceded traditional land of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, located in so-called “British Columbia,” from the environmental destruction caused by pipeline projects. Moor detailed the horrific abuse inflicted on them and their comrades when Canadian RCMP police invaded the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
Jean-Luc Pierite (Tunica Biloxi), President of the Board of the North American Center of Boston, closed out the rally and stressed the importance of direct action and organization to combat the settler-colonial assault on tribal sovereignty. “Do not just fight at the ballot box,” said Pierite. “Continue to fight on the streets. . . . Continue the fight, and we will continue into the future.”