Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning for Indians

published Nov 24, 2008 9:19 PM

Following are excerpts from a statement written by Mahtowin Munro (Lakota) and Moonanum James (Wampanoag), co-leaders of United American Indians of New England. Read the entire statement at www.uaine.org.

Mahtowin Munro

Mahtowin Munro

Every year since 1970, United American Indians of New England have organized the National Day of Mourning observance in Plymouth at noon on Thanksgiving Day. Every year, hundreds of Native people and our supporters from all four directions join us. Every year, including this year, Native people from throughout the Americas will speak the truth about our history and about current issues and struggles we are involved in.

Why do hundreds of people stand out in the cold rather than sit home eating turkey and watching football? Do we have something against a harvest festival?

Moonanum James

Moonanum James

Of course not. But Thanksgiving in this country—and in particular in Plymouth—is much more than a harvest home festival. It is a celebration of pilgrim mythology.

According to this mythology, the pilgrims arrived, the Native people fed them and welcomed them, the Indians promptly faded into the background, and everyone lived happily ever after.

The pilgrims are glorified and mythologized because the circumstances of the first English-speaking colony in Jamestown were frankly too ugly (for example, they turned to cannibalism to survive) to hold up as an effective national myth.

The pilgrims did not find an empty land any more than Columbus “discovered” anything. Every inch of this land is Indian land. The pilgrims (who did not even call themselves pilgrims) did not come here seeking religious freedom; they already had that in Holland.

Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier

They came here as part of a commercial venture. They introduced sexism, racism, anti-lesbian and -gay bigotry, jails and the class system to these shores. One of the very first things they did when they arrived on Cape Cod—before they even made it to Plymouth—was to rob Wampanoag graves at Corn Hill and steal as much of the Indians’ winter provisions of corn and beans as they were able to carry.

They were no better than any other group of Europeans when it came to their treatment of the Indigenous peoples here. And, no, they did not even land at that sacred shrine called Plymouth Rock, a monument to racism and oppression which we are proud to say we buried in 1995.

The first official “Day of Thanksgiving” was proclaimed in 1637 by Governor Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of men from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who had gone to Mystic, Conn., to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children and men.

About the only true thing in the whole mythology is that these pitiful European strangers would not have survived their first several years in “New England” were it not for the aid of Wampanoag people. What Native people got in return for this help was genocide, theft of our lands and never-ending repression. We are either treated as quaint relics from the past or are, to most people, virtually invisible.

When we dare to stand up for our rights, we are considered unreasonable. When we speak the truth about the history of the European invasion, we are often told to “go back where we came from.” Our roots are right here. They do not extend across any ocean.

National Day of Mourning began in 1970 when a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta Frank James, was asked to speak at a state dinner celebrating the 350th anniversary of the pilgrim landing. He refused to speak false words in praise of the white man for bringing civilization to us poor heathens. Native people from throughout the Americas came to Plymouth where they mourned their forebears who had been sold into slavery, burned alive, massacred, cheated and mistreated since the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620.

But the commemoration of National Day of Mourning goes far beyond the circumstances of 1970.

Can we give thanks as we remember Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier, who was framed up by the FBI and has been falsely imprisoned since 1976? Despite mountains of evidence exonerating Peltier and the proven misconduct of federal prosecutors and the FBI, Peltier has been denied a new trial.

To Native people, the case of Peltier is one more ordeal in a litany of wrongdoings committed by the U.S. government against us. While the media in New England present images of the “Pequot miracle” in Connecticut, the vast majority of Native people continue to live in the most abysmal poverty.

Can we give thanks for the fact that, on many reservations, unemployment rates surpass 50 percent? Our life expectancies are much lower, our infant mortality and teen suicide rates much higher than those of white Americans. Racist stereotypes of Native people, such as those perpetuated by the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves and countless local and national sports teams, persist. Every single one of the more than 350 treaties that Native nations signed has been broken by the U.S. government. The bipartisan budget cuts have severely reduced educational opportunities for Native youth and the development of new housing on reservations, and have caused cause deadly cutbacks in healthcare and other necessary services.

Are we to give thanks for being treated as unwelcome in our own country?

When the descendants of the Aztec, Maya and Inca flee to the U.S., the descendants of the wash-ashore pilgrims term them “illegal aliens” and hunt them down.

We object to the “Pilgrim Progress” parade and to what goes on in Plymouth because they are making millions of tourist dollars every year from the false pilgrim mythology. That money is being made off the backs of our slaughtered Indigenous ancestors.

Increasing numbers of people are seeking alternatives to such holidays as Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. They are coming to the conclusion that if we are ever to achieve some sense of community, we must first face the truth about the history of this country and the toll that history has taken on the lives of millions of Indigenous, Black, [email protected], Asian, and poor and working-class white people.

The myth of Thanksgiving, served up with dollops of European superiority and manifest destiny, just does not work for many people in this country. As Malcolm X once said about the African-American experience in America, “We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.” Exactly.

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Queers United said...

Thanksgiving is a horrible holiday, we celebrate the rape and murder of a people and their land, and the continual murdering and glorification of a dead bird on our tables.

I do not celebrate thanksgiving, I celebrate thanks living, a vegan celebration of Earth and all its goodness, and to honor those natives who had their lives destroyed.

T.Allen-Mercado said...

Thanks for sharing this. I
will include this essay in our homeschool studies this Thursday.

Rj said...

Thank you for posting this. I have never felt quite right during these times. It is only now, that I am attempting to re-create the holidays for my family in light of the truth and the struggles that persist.

Teratornis merriami said...

"Our roots are right here. They do not extend across any ocean."
Last time I checked, the Pacific Ocean was indeed an ocean, and your ancestors crossed it to get here.

If you want something with true roots in this country, look no further than the nearest dog, horse, or camel.

Serious about politics said...

When the United States government honors the indigenous peoples of this land, that will be a day to give thanks. Furthermore, this country's historical genocidal attacks on the American Indian people, the enslavement of African people, the stealing of land from Mexicanos, the abuse of Chinese to build a railroad, is nothing to be thankful about.
However, all people who have a bed to sleep in, a roof over their heads, food to eat, good health and healthcare, and at least one person who truly loves you, those are things to be thankful about. What is wrong here is that we choose one day out of the year to pay homage to these rights of all people. So, we eat until we can eat no more on one day, then forget the homeless while walking past them the next. We forget that American Indians have the lowest living standards than any other group of people in our land, mostly because of how presidents like Andrew Jackson, James Madison and many others, confined them to lands that were unlivable because of the belief that whites cannot live with the Indian people. On every Thanksgiving day, my family always pay homage to our Indian ancestors for in our household we have Black Foot, Iraqui and Cherokee in our blood. As Black and Indian we know what it's like to feel the stinging lash of a whip and feel the blood pore down our backs. My family is fortunate to eat on that day so we give thanks to Mother Earth for the fruits of her love to us so we may fill our bellies with good food. But, we all should not forget that the United States of America is here because of the genocidal killing which is a product of Manifest Destiny. Aho!

SunlessNick said...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Great. Oppression Olympics between Indigenous Peoples and animals. Seriously, camels? The English word camel comes from the Arabic "jamal", so I suppose Arabs were actually here first and took back the camels to the Middle East. Even if some type of camel species lived in North America, it was 40 million years ago, when they migrated to Asia, Arabia and Africa, where they have made their homes for millenia. Yes, even animals are immigrants!

Just how long must one reside in a place before you can claim legitimate roots? Fact is, animals aside, Native Americans were here first, period, more than 10,000 years before European settlers alighted Plymouth Rock.

Most non-Native Americans have never been taught, nor have confronted, the genocide committed on our own territory. And when we talk of the serious issues confronting "minorities" in our country, rarely are they included in the discussion or in direct action, even among progressives. For every 1000 blog posts or articles I read on just about every group suffering oppression or discrimination in this totally awesome country, I might read one, if that, on Indigenous Peoples, unless I go to places that deal solely with that subject.

We as a society have just simply "disappeared" them from our collective consciousness, as we literally did when the first settlers arrived, thus "disappearing" our responsibility for their ongoing struggles, as Ms. Munro and Mr. James so eloquently describe here.

Anonymous said...

Camels may have originally evolved in the Americas. After all, llamas and alpacas - two camel-like species - live in South America.

I know horses evolved in the Americas, but then went extinct here. The feral ("wild") horses today are descendants of horses brought over by Spanish and, later, English conquerors. (I was going to say "settlers," but they didn't simply "settle" the land, they conquered and stole it.)

Dogs also originally evolved in the Americas.

So that's what the poster who mentioned camels meant: human beings did not evolve in the Americas, so none of us have roots here. We all have roots in Africa, because that's where our species evolved.

But that's just a very strict way of looking at things. Realistically, whoever the first people are on this continent can be considered to have roots here. And nobody's roots or lack thereof justifies what my ancestors did to the First Nations.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why anyone would call Americans Indians. As far as I can tell, Indians live in India, Americans live in America. I had heard that Columbus thought this was India, therefore the people were called Indians. But, to me, the people who were here are the original Americans. I don't even like the term Native Americans, because of the word Native, which to me implies ignorance. The truly ignorant people are the vast majority of USA people who think they live in a noble democratic country. I don't see anything noble about the USA. We have a puppet government that does the will of the super-rich owners of the US military-industrial complex, who are intent on world domination and conquest. Our true, unedited history is one of genocide, oppression, and psychological manipulation of the masses. I admire the Americans who respected the earth and lived simply in community. They took what they needed, without greed and self-interest, and with a thankful attitude. The murdering Europeans were the exact opposite of these people.

Ebony Intuition said...

"As far as I can tell, Indians live in India"

Thank you anon, The day when people learn that "Native Indians" is misnomer it even says it in the dictionary.

"Assuming that he had reached the Indies, Columbus called the people on the islands his ships visited "indios," or "Indians," and the misnomer has stuck ever since."


whatsername said...

Thank you Renee.

AR said...

I don't know why anyone would call Americans Indians.

Since it's not as though you can really expect names of peoples to make sense, (I mean, we call Deutschland "Germany." How did that happen?) what they prefer to be called is usually the best option, and at least some of them actually prefer that phrase, or "American Indians" for clarity. The group described in this post obviously does.

Julie (formerly The Girl Detective) said...

"When we speak the truth about the history of the European invasion, we are often told to 'go back where we came from.'"


I want to show this statement to everyone I know.

- Julie

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone! . Happy Thanksgiving!!!! :) :) :)
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and each yr I like to get into the mood-extend the holiday, since it were-by reading "Thanksgiving novels." Unsurprisingly, all these stories are mostly about family and friends, about coming together to heal old hurts and giving thanks for the gift of love. . .. - --
Do You Think You're Much better Off Today Than You Were 6 Yrs Ago?