Members of Native American tribes from New England gather in a seaside town where pilgrims settled – not to thank but to mourn indigenous peoples around the world who have suffered for centuries from racism and ill-treatment.
Thursday’s National Day of Mourning in downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts, is reminiscent of the disease and oppression they say European migrants brought to North America.
“We have no reason for Indigenous people to celebrate the arrival of the pilgrims,” said Kisha James, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag and Oglala Lakota tribes and the granddaughter of Frank James, the founder of the event.
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“We want to educate people so that they understand that the stories we all learn in school from the first day of Thanksgiving are just lies. Wampanoag and other indigenous peoples really haven’t lived happily since the pilgrims arrived,” James said.
“For us, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning because we remember the millions of our ancestors who murdered uninvited European migrants, such as pilgrims. Today, we and many indigenous peoples around the country say, ‘No thanks, no donations.’ ‘”
This is the 52nd year that the New England Americans have hosted the event on Thanksgiving. The tradition originated in 1970.
The story comes when groups of students and alumni from several colleges across the country encouraged students to celebrate Thanksgiving as an Indian Memorial Day, and the George Washington University Student Association sent students an email on Monday stating that “Thanksgiving is a reminder of the genocide of millions of indigenous peoples.”
“While we understand the importance of thanksgiving and spending time with family and friends, we must also recognize that Thanksgiving is a day of grief for many in our community,” the email said.
Among the students at George Washington University were the university’s alumni associations University of Maryland, Florida Gulf Coast University, Washington State University, Hiram College Ohio and California State University, Long Beach, who attended events asking whether Americans should “consider” Thanksgiving.
“Since 1970, many Americans, led by indigenous protesters, believed that Thanksgiving should be rededicated as a national day of mourning to reflect centuries of Indian exclusion and persecution. The recent transition from Columbus Day to Indigenous Day reflects a changing national mood,” “Should Americans reconsider Thanksgiving as they struggle with our country’s complex past?”
Indigenous peoples and their supporters gathered in person at noon on Cole’s Hill, a monument to the arrival of the colonies, a windswept hill overlooking Plymouth Rock. They also stream the event.
Participants beat the drums, prayed for and condemned the “unjust system based on racism, settler colonialism, sexism, homophobia and the for-profit destruction of the planet” described by the organizers before marching through the historic district of Plymouth.
This year, they highlighted the problematic legacy of federal boarding schools that seek to integrate Indigenous youth into white society in the United States and Canada, where hundreds of bodies are said to have been found on the site of former residential schools for Indigenous children.
Brian Moskwetah Weeden, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, told Boston Public Radio earlier this week that Americans owe a debt of gratitude to his tribe for helping pilgrims survive their first cruel winter.
“People need to understand that you have to be grateful every day – that’s how our ancestors thought and navigated this world,” Weeden said. “Because we were grateful, we were willing to share … and we had good intentions and a good heart.”
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It did not respond in the long run, Weeden added.
“That’s why, 400 years later, we’re still sitting here fighting for the little country 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 say or be grateful for. So I think it’s important that everyone is grateful for our ancestors who helped the pilgrims survive and who played a complex role in the birth of this people.”
The Associated Press participated in this report.