Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving: The National Day of Mourning

Thanksgiving: The National Day of Mourning


Text of 1970 speech by Wampsutta -An Aquinnah Wampanoag Elder


Cover Story

The Black Commentator

November 24, 2011 - Issue 449


Frank James (1923 - February 20, 2001), known to the

Wampanoag people as Wampsutta, was invited to speak by the

Commonwealth of Massachusetts at the 1970 annual

Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth. When the text of Mr. James'

speech, a powerful statement of anger at the history of

oppression of the Native people of America, became known

before the event, the Commonwealth "disinvited" him.

Wampsutta was not prepared to have his speech revised by the

Pilgrims. He left the dinner and the ceremonies and went to

the hill near the statue of the Massasoit, who as the leader

of the Wampanoags when the Pilgrims landed in their

territory. There overlooking Plymouth Harbor, he looked at

the replica of the Mayflower. It was there that he gave his

speech that was to be given to the Pilgrims and their

guests. There eight or ten Indians and their supporters

listened in indignation as Frank talked of the takeover of

the Wampanoag tradition, culture, religion, and land.


That silencing of a strong and honest Native voice led to

the convening of the National Day of Mourning. The following

is the text of 1970 speech by Wampsutta, an Aquinnah

Wampanoag elder and Native American activist.


I speak to you as a man -- a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud

man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a

strict parental direction ("You must succeed - your face is

a different color in this small Cape Cod community!"). I am

a product of poverty and discrimination from these two

social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and

sisters, have painfully overcome, and to some extent we have

earned the respect of our community. We are Indians first -

but we are termed "good citizens." Sometimes we are arrogant

but only because society has pressured us to be so.


It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my

thoughts. 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.


Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for

explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell

them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. 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.


Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these

facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the

settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this

because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his

knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for

his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by

Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. 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.


What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened in

the last 300 years? History gives us facts and there were

atrocities; there were broken promises - and most of these

centered around land ownership. Among ourselves we

understood that there were boundaries, but never before had

we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white

man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of land that

he owned. Only ten years later, when the Puritans came, they

treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting

the souls of the so-called "savages." Although the Puritans

were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was

pressed between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any

other "witch."


And so down through the years there is record after record

of Indian lands taken and, in token, reservations set up for

him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of

his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man

took his land and used it for his personal gain. This the

Indian could not understand; for to him, land was survival,

to farm, to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We

see incident after incident, where the white man sought to

tame the "savage" and convert him to the Christian ways of

life. The early Pilgrim settlers led the Indian to believe

that if he did not behave, they would dig up the ground and

unleash the great epidemic again.


The white man used the Indian's nautical skills and

abilities. They let him be only a seaman -- but never a

captain. Time and time again, in the white man's society, we

Indians have been termed "low man on the totem pole."


Has the Wampanoag really disappeared? There is still an aura

of mystery. We know there was an epidemic that took many

Indian lives - some Wampanoags moved west and joined the

Cherokee and Cheyenne. They were forced to move. Some even

went north to Canada! Many Wampanoag put aside their Indian

heritage and accepted the white man's way for their own

survival. There are some Wampanoag who do not wish it known

they are Indian for social or economic reasons.


What happened to those Wampanoags who chose to remain and

live among the early settlers? What kind of existence did

they live as "civilized" people? True, living was not as

complex as life today, but they dealt with the confusion and

the change. Honesty, trust, concern, pride, and politics

wove themselves in and out of their [the Wampanoags'] daily

living. Hence, he was termed crafty, cunning, rapacious, and dirty.


History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage,

illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written

by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an

unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly

different cultures met. One thought they must control life;

the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature

decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as

human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt,

and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and

failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as

laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood.


The white man in the presence of the Indian is still

mystified by his uncanny ability to make him feel

uncomfortable. This may be the image the white man has

created of the Indian; his "savageness" has boomeranged and

isn't a mystery; it is fear; fear of the Indian's temperament!


High on a hill, overlooking the famed Plymouth Rock, stands

the statue of our great Sachem, Massasoit. Massasoit has

stood there many years in silence. We the descendants of

this great Sachem have been a silent people. The necessity

of making a living in this materialistic society of the

white man caused us to be silent. Today, I and many of my

people are choosing to face the truth. We ARE Indians!


Although time has drained our culture, and our language is

almost extinct, we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of

Massachusetts. We may be fragmented, we may be confused.

Many years have passed since we have been a people together.

Our lands were invaded. We fought as hard to keep our land

as you the whites did to take our land away from us. We were

conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many

cases, and wards of the United States Government, until only



Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the woodland

paths and sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam

highways and roads. We are uniting We're standing not in our

wigwams but in your concrete tent. We stand tall and proud,

and before too many moons pass we'll right the wrongs we

have allowed to happen to us.


We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the

hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to

keep us on our knees. What has happened cannot be changed,

but today we must work towards a more humane America, a more

Indian America, where men and nature once again are

important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and

brotherhood prevail.


You the white man are celebrating an anniversary. We the

Wampanoags will help you celebrate in the concept of a

beginning. It was the beginning of a new life for the

Pilgrims. Now, 350 years later it is a beginning of a new

determination for the original American: the American



There are some factors concerning the Wampanoags and other

Indians across this vast nation. We now have 350 years of

experience living amongst the white man. We can now speak

his language. We can now think as a white man thinks. We can

now compete with him for the top jobs. We're being heard; we

are now being listened to. The important point is that along

with these necessities of everyday living, we still have the

spirit, we still have the unique culture, we still have the

will and, most important of all, the determination to remain

as Indians. We are determined, and our presence here this

evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning

of the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to

regain the position in this country that is rightfully ours.




42nd National Day of Mourning

November 24, 2011

12:00 noon

Coles Hill Plymouth, MA


United American Indians of New England (UAINE)


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