By Karin Friedemann, TMO
Despite bitter cold, hundreds of people attended the National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, MA on November 28 to recall the genocide experienced by Americaâ€™s native population at the hands of the settlers known as the Pilgrims. This yearâ€™s memorial event, organized by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), started with the burning of sage and a prayer, followed by speeches given by Native American spokespersons that included prayers for the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and all victims of racist expansionism.
The real story of the First Thanksgiving was related, in which the Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: â€œA day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children… This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.â€
Dutch and English Christian settlers had set on fire the homes of sleeping families:
â€œThose that escaped from the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run threw with their rapiers [swords]….It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire, and the streams of blood quenching the same,â€ Puritan William Bradford described.
â€œThe surviving Pequots were hunted but could make little haste because of their children. They were literally â€˜run to ground…tramped into the mud and buried in the swamp.â€
Iman Hussain, a 7th grader who attended the Day of Mourning, told TMO, â€œI was surprised to find out that what I had learned in school about the happy Thanksgiving holiday wasnâ€™t true.â€
A statement from long-term political prisoner Leonard Peltier addressing the National Day of Mourning was read aloud. He implored listeners to â€œmake a vow to renew our efforts, renew our minds, renew our directions to take back our water take back our air take back our forests and our mountains and valleys, restore this mother earth to the natural balance the Creator meant it to be. We need to talk to the churches, talk to the various religions, we need to get them to recognize that the strongest form of worship isnâ€™t singing songs and bowing your head, the strongest form of worship is to respect and restore to balance the beauty of nature and the earth that was given to us, that is part of us, that we are a part of, and to be responsible for… All evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing.â€
â€œ…As some of you may know the Constitution is a copy of the Iroquois 6 nations Confederacy law. The constitution originally was designed so that men would have maximum freedoms as long as they did not infringe on the natural rights of others or in essence harm someone else. The freedoms and respect that the law implies that we should have for one another in this nation should extend to all those outside of this realm because what is right for one man should be right for others.â€
Of particular importance in this yearâ€™s event was an urgent call to action by the Idle No More movement in Canada, which â€œseeks to assert Indigenous inherent rights to sovereignty and reinstitute traditional laws and Nation to Nation Treaties by protecting the lands and waters from corporate destruction.â€ Native American tribes and environmentalist protesters are currently involved in a standoff with the Canadian government, blocking a highway in an effort to stop fracking (gas and oil drilling). The water has already been made undrinkable in several regions in both Canada and the United States due to contamination caused by fracking.
The crowd marched peacefully through Plymouthâ€™s downtown, past Plymouth Rock, and ended with a prayer at the site of a plaque commemorating Metacomet (King Phillip) that reads:
â€œAfter the Pilgrimsâ€™ arrival, Native Americans in New England grew increasingly frustrated with the English settlersâ€™ abuse and treachery. Metacomet (King Philip), a son of the Wampanoag sachem known as the Massasoit (Ousameqin), called upon all Native people to unite to defend their homelands against encroachment. The resulting â€œKing Philipâ€™s Warâ€ lasted from 1675-1676. Metacomet was murdered in Rhode Island in August 1676, and his body was mutilated. His head was impaled on a pike and was displayed near this site for more than 20 years. One hand was sent to Boston, the other to England. Metacometâ€™s wife and son, along with the families of many of the Native American combatants, were sold into slavery in the West Indies by the English victors.â€
Hundreds of people of all races in good cheer filled the social rooms of two nearby historical churches, beyond capacity, and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner provided by UAINE, who insisted that families with children, the elderly, and the handicapped be seated first. Anyone who wanted was given bread, fruit, and turkey leftovers to take home after the feast.
â€œInstead of celebrating a past that never happened, I think itâ€™s a great idea to create a future where we actually get to meet real American Indians, eat with them and listen to their stories every Thanksgiving. From now on, my family will come to the National Day of Mourning every year,â€ said a man who attended for the first time.
In 1970, UAINE protesters painted the Plymouth Rock red, climbed up the mast of the replica of the Mayflower Ship, ripped down the British flag and replaced it with the flag of the American Indian Movement. After decades of confrontations with the police, the town of Plymouth compromised with the UAINE by erecting a statue of Massasoit, the 17th Century leader of the Wampanoag Confederacy on Coleâ€™s Hill, which was used as a burial ground during the settlerâ€™s first winter in New England in 1620-21. The plaque, which was erected by the Town of Plymouth on behalf of the United American Indians of New England reads:
â€œSince 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Coleâ€™s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.â€