Speech by Moonanum James, Co-Leader of United American Indians of New England
at the 29th National Day of Mourning, November 26, 1998
Good afternoon Sisters and Brothers:
On October 19th of this year, a little over 30 days ago, United American Indians of New England and the Town of Plymouth signed a most historically significant document. Under the terms of this settlement agreement, the frame-up charges against 25 of us from last year were dropped. Plymouth has provided funds for a Native educational project and also for two historical plaques in town, one here on Cole's Hill and one in Post Office Square, that will have factual information about National Day of Mourning and about the true history of the pilgrim invasion. Finally, Plymouth has recognized our right to have National Day of Mourning here every year and to march in Plymouth without a permit.
This settlement with Plymouth marks the first time since 1620 that the pilgrims have been forced to stop taking and start giving something back to the Native people.
This victory was made possible because of the support of people from not only this area but from across the country and around the world. Countless thousands of people signed petitions, sent faxes, made telephone calls, and wrote letters supporting our struggle for justice. Also key was the support and sacrifice of the Plymouth 25 themselves, the 25 people, from the four directions, who were arrested last year for the supposed "crime" of supporting our struggle. Many of the Plymouth 25 are here today, and we want to acknowledge them and recognize them as heroes in the people's struggle.
I will not now recount the events that took place on National Day of Mourning 1997. Those who witnessed what happened to us at the hands of the combined forces of the state will long remember what happened. For Native people it was just one more incident in a long history of our mistreatment at the hands of the European invaders. We have not forgotten, we well remember, the long, bloody trail of European conquest that led from early settlements like Plymouth to places like Great Swamp, Sand Creek, and Wounded Knee.
National Day of Mourning began in this manner: Nearly 30 years ago a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta Frank James, was invited to address a gathering of so-called dignitaries celebrating the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims. When he attempted to tell the truth, he was told his words were not acceptable. The planners of the gathering, fearing the truth, told him he could speak only if he were willing to speak false words in praise of the white man. He refused. National Day of Mourning came into being as a result of his refusal to speak untrue words.
Many times over the past year we have been asked what is the true history of thanksgiving. This comes as no surprise. The truth has been buried for over 375 years. The first Thanksgiving did not occur in 1621 when the pilgrim survivors of the first winter sat down to dinner with their Indian friends. The first official day of thanksgiving and feasting in Massachusetts was proclaimed by Gov. Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. He did this to give thanks for the safe return of men from the colony who had gone to what is now Mystic, Connecticut to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children.
What happened in October of 1621 may have been a harvest home, but the Indians who attended were not even invited by the Pilgrims, who considered our people to be devils. No turkey, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie was served. Just days before this alleged thanksgiving communion, a company of pilgrims led by Myles Standish actively sought the head of a local chief. The pilgrims deliberately caused a rivalry between two friendly Indians, pitting one against the other in the classic European method of divide and conquer. An 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the purpose of keeping the Indians out.
Native people do not give thanks just one day a year. Every day, we thank the Creator for this beautiful earth and for our survival. But we will not give thanks for the European invasion of our country. We will not celebrate the theft of our lands and the genocide of our people. We will not sing and dance to please the tourists who come here seeking a Disneyland version of history. Attention all tourists: If you are expecting us to put on a show, you would be better advised to go down to Plymouth Rock and watch the tide wash over it.
That first Day of Mourning back in 1970 was a powerful demonstration of Native unity. Today is a powerful demonstration of not only Native unity, but of the unity of all people from the Four Directions who want the truth to be told and want to see an end to the oppressive system brought to these shores by the Pilgrim invaders.
There are those who feel threatened by the movement that we are building when we come together at National Day of Mourning. There are those who would have us be good Indians and act like a conquered people and beg for the scraps from the Thanksgiving table.
But these attacks are merely spit in the winds of change.
Some ask us: Will you ever stop protesting? Some day we will stop protesting: We will stop protesting when the merchants of Plymouth are no longer making millions of dollars off the blood of our slaughtered ancestors. We will stop protesting when we can act as sovereign nations on our own land without the interference of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and what Sitting Bull called the "favorite ration chiefs." When corporations stop polluting our mother, the earth. When racism has been eradicated. When the oppression of Two-Spirited people is a thing of the past. We will stop protesting when homeless people have homes and no child goes to bed hungry. When police brutality no longer exists in communities of color. We will stop protesting when Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal and the Puerto Rican independentistas and all the political prisoners are free.
Until then, the struggle will continue.
Today, we will correct some history and do so in a country that continues to glorify butchers such as Christopher Columbus, glorifies slave-owning presidents such as Washington and Jefferson and even carves their faces into the sacred Black Hills of the Lakota.
But we have a lot more to talk about than the pilgrims or what happened in the 1600s. We will also be speaking today, as we have every year since 1970, about conditions in Indian country today, about the racism which we face on a daily basis. We are here, as we have been for 28 years, to unite people and to speak the truth. On our program will be only Native speakers. This is one day when we speak for ourselves, without non-Native people, so-called "experts," intervening to interpret and speak for us. We are more than capable of speaking for ourselves.
Today, for a few hours, we are gathered here in liberated territory. Our very presence frees this land from the lies of the history books, the profiteers, and the mythmakers. We will remember and honor all of our ancestors in struggle who went before us. We will speak truth to power. We will remember in particular all of our sisters and brothers, including Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal, who are caged in the iron houses.
We are not vanishing. We are not conquered. We are as strong as ever.