Thanksgiving Is National Day of Mourning for Native Peoples in Historic Massachusetts Town

Search form

Thanksgiving Is National Day of Mourning for Native Peoples in Historic Massachusetts Town

Thanksgiving Is National Day of Mourning for Native Peoples in Historic Massachusetts Town
Thu, 11/28/2013 - by Matt Carter

With its historic landmarks and small town charm, Plymouth, Massachusetts, forms the perfect backdrop to the celebrated tradition of the Pilgrims, including an annual reenactment of the first Thanksgiving. The event draws tourists from far and wide, but pays little to no attention to the ravaging effects of European colonization on the Native American population – nor, specifically, to the earlier Pilgrims who settled Jamestown with the assistance of the local Wampanoag people.

These omissions of fact, in the face of conclusive record-keeping, make Thanksgiving in Plymouth an opportunity for Native Americans to protest historical inaccuracy. To local Native Americans, the fourth Thursday of November is not known as Thanksgiving.

It is the National Day of Mourning.

The date was set in motion in 1970 when Wampanoag leader Frank James, a.k.a. Wamsutta, was asked to speak at the Plymouth Thanksgiving celebration. Rather than repeat the pretense of friendly relations held between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Wamsutta chose to speak about one Pilgrim’s account of the group's first year on Native American land. With its less than pleasant language revealing Pilgrims' exploitation and abuse of the indigenous people, the speech was deemed by organizers to be too inflammatory. A new speech was prepared for Wamsutta to read.

The result: he chose not to attend the celebration and instead, in protest, organized an opposition that became the National Day of Mourning, or NDOM.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts still hasn't been able to silence Wamsutta. The original speech, which Wamsutta gave at Cole’s Hill Cemetery, became the catalyst for a protest that has taken place in Plymouth every Thanksgiving since then. Now organized by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), the National Day of Mourning serves as a reminder of the “democide and continued suffering of the Native American peoples.”

What started as a form of dissent against New England's unrealistic portrayal of history, NDOM has now become a platform for many social concerns shared by Native Americans, and continues to grow in attendance.

“Many people who attend National Day of Mourning have experienced the amazing unity of purpose and action that we achieve,” UAINE's co-leader Moonanum James told Occupy.com. “At its best, NDOM is a preview of the possibilities that can exist in a better world where we have united through struggle.”

UAINE is hardly alone in its demonstration against injustice past and present. The Unist’ot’en tribe has occupied land in British Columbia against the proposed Pacific Trails Pipeline, disputing the Canadian government's ownership of the land. And the Idle No More indigenous protest movement in Canada has grown to inspire solidarity movements across the U.S. and Europe.

But National Day of Mourning may be the event that most concentrates on setting the historical record straight, as it takes place in the exact location where indigenous history was first buried in favor of a more agreeable tradition.

“One thing we see very strongly right now is that the Pilgrims and other European invaders brought with them a damaging and foreign view of the land,” said Moonanum. “They had this biblical view of imposing human will on hostile nature."

"Those attitudes continue to be manifested in the most horrific ways, with fracking, pipelines and nuclear power – with no thought given to the violence of these assaults on the earth, nor the long-term consequences.”

Americans celebrating Thanksgiving this Thursday aren't likely to see coverage of NDOM on the national news. More probable would be a story about the taxation of casinos on Reservation lands. In the view of those protesting, and increasing numbers of others who share their views, Thanksgiving was created to present an image of Native Americans that is placating. By remaining righteously indignant to the holiday, the Wampanoag are rejecting that marginalized, inaccurate view of their history.

“We strive to educate people about the past and about current conditions for Indigenous people,” another UAINE co-leader, Mahtowin, told Occupy.com. “We would like to see the truth about U.S. history taught to all youth.”

If UAINE can reach that goal, Thanksgiving may become about much more than just a turkey dinner. The Pilgrim diary from Jamestown that Wamsutta originally drew from included instances of settler cannibalism, grave robbing and the selling the Wampanoag into slavery.

“Due to racism, millions of Indigenous people experience economic violence on a daily basis,” said Mahtowin. “The federal sequestration and budget cuts have had an immense impact on Native people in the U.S., since the cuts have hurt desperately needed programs ranging from food stamps (SNAP) to Head Start.”

UAINE has faced resistance to its activities, especially the vocal NDOM action. In 1997, the group clashed with state troopers, which resulted in several arrests on charges of assembling without a permit. The following year, the state of Massachusetts reached an agreement with UAINE that allowed them to protest without a permit as long as they gave advance notice.

“I certainly understand that Thanksgiving is not celebrated by everyone, and some people feel that it is a day of mourning. I can certainly appreciate that point of view,” said the executive director of the Plymouth Pilgrim Hall museum, Patrick Browne. Asked about the Pilgrim's account that Wamsutta used in his speech which sparked the NDOM movement 43 years ago, Brown replied he was "not familiar with that account."

Which is precisely why UAINE remains steadfast in its efforts to educate the American public, by providing a more truthful and accurate version of events from four centuries before. On Thursday, as most Americans settle into their Thanksgiving holiday, UAINE and supporters will march proudly through the historic district of Plymouth. Their duty, they say, is to their ancestors, and to the legacy their people carry today.

Article Tabs

student debt, student loans, debt jubilee, debt forgiveness

We realize that a “student debt jubilee” will cost money, but it will also stimulate economic growth by injecting more money into the economy – and that growth will provide more tax revenue for the government.

carbon emissions, climate catastrophe, runaway climate change, climate solutions, carbon cuts, Solutions Project, Rocky Mountain Institute, Northwest Biocarbon Initiative

It's time to call out with very loud voices for what we really need: a global energy revolution accompanied by a global land use revolution – because nothing less will do.

A day after attending a Native Lives Matter march, a Native American man in South Dakota was killed by a police officer under very shady circumstances.

Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras, anti-austerity protests, Greek protests, bank bailouts, austerity policies, Podemos party, Golden Dawn

The victory of Greece's leftwing Syriza party is sending shockwaves through Europe’s political establishment as popular resistance to the politics of austerity builds.

There are lots of ways to plug into the movement opposing Fast Track legislation and the biggest, most damaging corporate trade agreement in history.

Britain’s colonial legacy is a living one – no one is born prejudiced, but in Britain all of us are born into racism.

Posted 4 days 7 hours ago

The fight for net neutrality, like the fight for an open and free Internet, is a clarion call for Internet users and content creators to defend what has made the the web one of the world’s greatest enablers of social and economic progress.

Posted 4 days 7 hours ago

Occupy was brilliant in getting a message across, but these protests are specifically and deliberately setting out to disrupt the functioning of the city until attention is paid to their grievances.

Posted 4 days 7 hours ago
Bitcoin, blockchain, alternative currencies, digital currencies, cryptocurrencies, decentralized economies

The emerging blockchain movement can build systems that incentivize carbon reductions, make renewable energy, increase microfinance, decrease costs in remittances and education, and lower barriers to entries across industries.

Posted 2 days 23 hours ago
Barrett Brown, relevant conduct, hacking, hacktivists, Stratfor hacking, Jeremy Hammond

Barrett Brown was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison for hacking Stratfor. But he's not a hacker - he's a journalist.

Posted 3 days 1 min ago

Occupy was brilliant in getting a message across, but these protests are specifically and deliberately setting out to disrupt the functioning of the city until attention is paid to their grievances.

stagnant wages, rising wages, outsourcing jobs

A majority of Americans have no savings to draw upon if they lose their job, and two-thirds of all workers are living paycheck to paycheck – which is why they won’t risk losing a job by asking for higher pay.

Britain’s colonial legacy is a living one – no one is born prejudiced, but in Britain all of us are born into racism.

The middle class that President Obama identified in his State of the Union speech last week as the foundation of the American economy has been shrinking for almost half a century.

Fast Track is far from a "done deal" in the United States, and foreign negotiators ought to be cautious before accepting provisions that will harm their population.

Sign Up