The United American Indians of New England and allies gathered at noon Thursday at Cole's Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts for the 53rd National Day of Mourning—an annual tradition that serves as "a day of remembrance and spiritual connection, as well as a protest against the racism and oppression that Indigenous people continue to experience worldwide." "We don't have any issues with people sitting down with their family and giving thanks," Kisha James—who is an enrolled member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and is also Oglala Lakota—told BBC. "What we do object to is the Thanksgiving mythology." In a Thursday speech, James—whose grandfather founded the National Day of Mourning in 1970—challenged the lies of "mythmakers" and history books, instead highlighting "genocide, the theft of our lands, the destruction of our traditional ways of life, slavery, starvation, and never-ending oppression."
Yet again a holiday for mass delusion about “Pilgrims and Indians” looms. It is a day when practically nobody seated around tables piled high with big dead birds and assorted platters of carbohydrates gives even a passing thought to Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop’s 1637 journal entry calling for “…a day of thanksgiving kept in all the churches for our victories against the Pequots.” Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford provided a detailed account of the so-called victories over an estimated 700 members of an indigenous community: “Those that scraped the fire were [slain] with the sword; some hewed to [pieces], others [run] [through] with their rapiers, so as they were quickly [dispatched], and very few [escaped]…It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the [fire], and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the [stink] and [scent] thereof, but the victory seemed a [sweet] sacrifice...
According to UAINE youth organizer Kisha James, who is Aquinnah Wampanoag and Oglala Lakota and the granddaughter of Wamsutta Frank James, the founder of National Day of Mourning, “Native people have no reason to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims. We want to educate people about the true origins of the first Thanksgiving, which were far bloodier than the ‘Pilgrims and Indians’ story in the Thanksgiving myth. The first official day of ‘thanksgiving’ was declared in Massachusetts in 1637 by Puritan Governor Winthrop to celebrate the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children on the banks of the Mystic River in Connecticut. Wampanoag and other Indigenous people have certainly not lived happily ever after since the arrival of the Pilgrims. To us, Thanksgiving is a Day of Mourning.
What are the United States’ foundational myths? Who created them, and who do they erase and harm? For the past 52 years, United American Indians of New England (UAINE) and supporters have gathered on so-called Thanksgiving Day in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to ask these questions, confront settler mythologies and commemorate a National Day of Mourning for the Indigenous people murdered by settler colonialism and imperialism worldwide. The National Day of Mourning protest was founded by Wamsutta Frank James, an Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal member. In 1970, Wamsutta had been invited by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to give a speech at a banquet commemorating the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims.
Of the traditional US holidays, Thanksgiving was by far my favorite. I can do without the excessive commercialization of Xmas with its cheesy music that broadcasts for weeks on end. Cancel the forced festiveness of New Years and the sloppy drunks it generates; ditto for the militarism of July 4th. So, what’s not good about coming together with friends and family and sharing a home cooked feast? I don’t want to ruin the party, but before you carve up the turkey, read the opening essay in Glen Ford’s The Black Agenda. His critique of the holiday is that the mythology surrounding Thanksgiving serves as a justification for our nation’s founding genocide of its native peoples and a validation of white supremacy.
I am sending a gift, a box of “Indian corn,” to the Wall Street Journal editorial board as a reminder of what really happened in colonial North America and is commemorated by the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. On this 400th anniversary of what we believe to be the first Thanksgiving, the Wall Street Journal is poised to print its insulting Pilgrim Journal version of early colonial history for the 60th time. Not only is the account suffused with the racist sentiment, but it is also factually incorrect to a grotesque degree. The newspaper is impugning its own credibility and not just its core values. In 2020, I wrote to the Wall Street Journal imploring them to retire the editorial and was ignored. This year I organized a Change.org petition to remove the offending commentary.
The White House on Friday revealed the names of the recipients of two pardons President Biden plans to issue—Peanut Butter and Jelly. The pardons are, of course, for two Thanksgiving turkeys, part of a stupid annual tradition where the president saves two turkeys from the Thanksgiving table. The tradition began in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln pardoned a turkey, an act that apparently wasn’t even reported in the media until 1865. By the early 20th century, it was common practice to give friends and family members live poultry as an early Christmas gift and to have them “pardon” the turkey or chicken as part of a “poultryless Thursday,” according to the White House Historical Society. How quaint.
On Thursday, millions of families across the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving without giving much thought to the truth behind the heavily mythologized and sanitized story taught in schools and promulgated by institutions. According to this myth, 400 years ago, the Pilgrims were warmly welcomed by the “Indians,” and the two groups came together in friendship to break bread. The “Indians” taught the Pilgrims how to live in the “New World,” setting the stage for the eventual establishment of a great land of liberty and opportunity.
In 1621, though Pilgrims celebrated a feast, it was not repeated in the years to follow. In 1636, a murdered white man was found in his boat and the Pequot were blamed. In retaliation, settlers burned Pequot villages. Additionally, English Major John Mason rallied his troops to further burn Pequot wigwams and then attacked and killed hundreds more men, women and children. According to Mason’s reports of the massacre, “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.” The Governor of Plymouth William Bradford wrote: “Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped.
According to UAINE youth coordinator Kisha James, who is Aquinnah Wampanoag and Oglala Lakota and the granddaughter of Wamsutta Frank James, the founder of National Day of Mourning, “We Native people have no reason to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims. We want to educate people so that they understand the stories we all learned in school about the first Thanksgiving are nothing but lies. Wampanoag and other Indigenous people have certainly not lived happily ever after since the arrival of the Pilgrims. To us, Thanksgiving is a Day of Mourning, because we remember the millions of our ancestors who were murdered by uninvited European colonists such as the Pilgrims. Today, we and many Indigenous people around the country say, ‘No Thanks, No Giving.’"
An informal group of Northwest Indigenous warriors, headed by veteran Native rights protector Sid Mills, announced last week they plan to join a march in Southern California to demand the release of Indigenous children from immigration detention facilities. The four-day event, called The March for Freedom, will begin in Los Angeles on the National Day of Mourning, known to non-Native people as Thanksgiving, and will end on Sunday, November 28, at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility in San Diego.
Native Americans don’t just live on reservations, we live in cities, and we live internationally. I grew up in the Silicon Valley of California. I was born in the city and have lived here my whole life, as an “Urban Native.” My grandfather moved to California from Mohawk territory in the 1950s after he served in Korea, and we have all lived in Sunnyvale ever since. The challenges I grew up around were different from my Oyaté (family) out on the reservations. It is easier to lose our sense of culture living among so many established settler communities.
The coronavirus pandemic is breaking records every day in the United States, filling up intensive care units, overwhelming hospital systems and exhausting health care workers. A record 203,000 Americans tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, and the seven-day average is above 170,000. Despite significant advances in treating the disease, more than 1,500 people are dying every day, the highest level since May. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that the US will record 300,000 deaths by the middle of December, and there could be as many as 21,000 new coronavirus hospitalizations each day.