Members of Native American tribes from around New England are gathering in the seaside town where the Pilgrims settled — not to give thanks, but to mourn Indigenous people worldwide who’ve suffered centuries of racism and mistreatment.
Thursday’s solemn National Day of Mourning observance in downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts, will recall the disease and oppression they say European settlers brought to North America.
“We Native people have no reason to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims,” said Kisha James, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag and Oglala Lakota tribes and the granddaughter of Wamsutta Frank James, the event’s founder.
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We aim to make people aware that stories like the one about the Thanksgiving Day are fabricated. James explained that Wampanoags, and other Indigenous Peoples, have never lived happy ever after following the arrival of Pilgrims.
For us, Thanksgiving means a day to mourn the loss of millions of our ancestors by European colonists like the Pilgrims. Today, we and many Indigenous people around the country say, ‘No Thanks, No Giving.’”
It’s the 52nd year that the United American Indians of New England have organized the event on Thanksgiving Day. This tradition was established in 1970.
It comes after multiple college student and alumni associations across the country encouraged students treat Thanksgiving Day as a day for Native Americans. On Monday, the George Washington University Student Association sent out an email to students saying that “Thanksgiving Day” is a reminder to the genocide perpetrated against millions Native Americans.
The email said that while we acknowledge the value of spending time with loved ones and giving thanks, it was also important to recognize that Thanksgiving is often a time of sorrow for many people in the community.
The alumni associations were created to support students at George Washington University. University of Maryland, Florida Gulf Coast University, Washington State University, Hiram CollegeOhio California State University, Long BeachParticipated in an event asking Americans to “reconsider” Thanksgiving.
Many Americans believed, starting in 1970, that Thanksgiving should be renamed as a National Day of Mourning, to commemorate the long history of displacement and persecution of Native Americans. The recent shift from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day reflects a changing national mood,” the event description states. “Should Americans reconsider Thanksgiving when wrestling with our country’s complicated past?”
Indigenous people and their supporters gathered at noon in person on Cole’s Hill, a windswept mound overlooking Plymouth Rock, a memorial to the colonists’ arrival. You can also stream the event livestreamed.
Participants beat drums, offered prayers and condemned what organizers described as “the unjust system based on racism, settler colonialism, sexism, homophobia and the profit-driven destruction of the Earth” before marching through downtown Plymouth’s historical district.
The group highlighted the troubling legacy of federal Boarding Schools that attempted to assimilate Indigenous Youth into White Society in both the U.S. and Canada. This was where hundreds of bodies were reportedly found at the former Indigenous Residential Schools.
Brian Moskwetah Weeden is the chairman of Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council. He stated on Boston Public Radio that Americans owe him a debt for helping Pilgrims to survive the first winter brutal.
“People need to understand that you need to be thankful each and every day — that was how our ancestors thought and navigated this world,” Weeden said. “Because of our thankfulness, we were willing and able to share… We had good intentions as well as a kind heart.”
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That wasn’t reciprocated over the long term, Weeden added.
“That’s why, 400 years later, we’re still sitting here fighting for what little bit of land that we still have, and trying to hold the commonwealth and the federal government accountable,” he said.
“Because 400 years later, we don’t really have much to show for, or to be thankful for. So I think it’s important for everyone to be thankful for our ancestors who helped the Pilgrims survive, and kind of played an intricate role in the birth of this nation.”
This report was contributed by The Associated Press.