Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day of Mourning

This year I took the opportunity to attend an event that I have heard of for many years: the 'National Day of Mourning'.

I wrote last year about my ambivalence about Thanksgiving: on one hand, it's important to be grateful and thankful for all we have, and on the other hand the irony of a holiday where we are grateful for what our ancestors took through genocide and slavery. (See Giving Thanks, 11/26/09.) I mentioned the Day of Mourning that is held by the United American Indians of New England. This year I went.

It's important for white US folks to pay attention to how we ended up with the privileges that we have. When I wrote my series on US History I covered the treatment of those who were living here when the Europeans arrived. (See USH3: Finding a New World, 1/9/09, and USH5: The Nation Grows, 1/17/09.) Basically the native people helped them out and the Europeans enslaved and killed them in return.

For Thanksgiving, 1970, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held a banquet to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. An Aquinnah Wampanoag man named Frank James, or Wamsutta, was asked to speak. However, when they got a copy of the speech ahead of time, they 'disinvited' him, claiming "...the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place." The inflammatory things that he pointed out included that "The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt's Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry."

On Cole's Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is a plaque that explains the rest: "Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole'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 a 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."

It was an honor to be part of this remembrance. Unfortunately, most of the native people in the US today are among the poorest people in the country. They are still treated badly. We need to change that, just as we need to change the way we treat immigrants, African-Americans, poor and working class people of whatever color, etc, etc. I don't ever want to forget that there were a people living here that are still living here and they cared for the earth and still do. We need to be honoring them, and learning from them, and asking their pardon. We need to do more than just treat them better. We need to support them.

Quote of the Day: "This is a time of celebration for you - celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.
"... We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people." - Wamsutta (Frank) James

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