"The greatest single acts of terrorism to date were not perpetrated by
Osama bin Laden, but by the US military when it dropped atomic bombs
on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
Speech by Moonanum James
32nd National Day of Mourning, 2001
Moonanum James at National Day of Mourning 2001
photo: cemile cakir
Sisters and Brothers:
We wish to dedicate this day to Wamsutta Frank James, who passed into the spirit world in February of this year, and who was a man of tremendous courage and wisdom.
We also wish to dedicate today to our brother Leonard Peltier, who still waits for justice in the iron cage called Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.
Today marks the 32nd time that United American Indians of New England and our supporters have gathered on this hill to observe a National Day of Mourning.
Unfortunately, many of those who organized that first Day of Mourning are with us today in spirit only.
At this time I would like to recognize those here today who were at the first Day of Mourning (Shirley Mills, Lone Eagless, Clint Wixon, etc.).
In 1970, United American Indians of New England declared the US thanksgiving holiday to be a National Day of Mourning. This came about as a result of the suppression of the truth. Wamsutta Frank James, an Aquinnah Wampanoag man, had been asked to speak at a fancy Commonwealth of Massachusetts banquet celebrating the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. He agreed. The organizers of the dinner asked for a copy of the speech he planned to deliver. He agreed. Within days Wamsutta was told by a representative of the Massachusetts Department of Commerce and Development that he would not be allowed to give the speech. The reason given was that, “...the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place.” What they were really saying was that in this society, the truth is out of place.
What was it about the speech that got those officials so upset? Wamsutta used as a basis for his remarks one of their own history books - a Pilgrim’s account of their first year on Indian land. The book tells of the opening of my ancestor’s graves, taking our corn and bean supplies, and of the selling of my ancestors as slaves for 220 shillings each. Wamsutta was going to tell the truth. But the organizers of the fancy state dinner told
Wamsutta that they would let him speak only if he agreed to deliver a sugar-coated speech that they would provide. Wamsutta refused to have words put into his mouth. Instead of speaking at the dinner, he and many hundreds of other Native people and our supporters from throughout the Americas gathered in Plymouth and observed the first National Day of Mourning.
On that first Day of Mourning back in 1970, Plymouth Rock was buried not once, but twice. The Mayflower was boarded and the Union Jack was torn from the mast and replaced with the flag that had flown over liberated Alcatraz Island. The roots of National Day of Mourning have always been firmly embedded in the soil of militant protest.
National Day of Mourning 2001
photo: cemile cakir
That first Day of Mourning was a powerful demonstration of Native unity. Today is a powerful demonstration of not only Native unity, but of the unity of all people 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.
Those who started National Day of Mourning could not have envisioned that we would still be here, year after year, carrying on this new tradition. I am sad to report that the conditions which prevailed in Indian Country in 1970 still prevail today. We continue to demand an end to the corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs. This was a demand back in 1970 and is still just as valid today. When will Native nations be free to govern ourselves? And why has no one been prosecuted for the BIA's outright theft of hundreds of millions of dollars in trust money? How dare the corrupt bureaucrats of the BIA sit in judgment of
who is Native and who is not? How dare they tell the Nipmuc and the Chinook and the Duwamish that they are somehow no longer real? Who are they to fail to recognize the Mashpee Wampanoag?
Back in 1970, those who started Day of Mourning spoke of terrible racism and poverty. Racism is still alive and well. Our people still are mired in the deepest poverty. We still lack decent healthcare, education, and housing. Every winter, thousands of our people have to make a bitter choice between heating and eating. Our youth suicide rates, our rates of alcoholism, continue to be the highest in the nation. As the economy crumbles around us, these conditions will only worsen.
Today we mourn the loss of millions of our ancestors and the devastation of our beautiful land and water and air. We pray for our people who have died during this past year. We join America in grieving for those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center. And I hope that you will join me in grieving, too, for the immense suffering of our sisters and brothers in Afghanistan, in Palestine, in Iraq, human beings who are referred to by this government as "collateral damage." We remember all too well that our people throughout the Americas have for centuries been the "collateral damage" of the European invasion.
The events of this past September were tragic and have affected all of us. Many innocent people lost their lives. We condemn all acts of violence and terrorism perpetrated by all governments and organizations against innocent civilians worldwide. And we condemn the racial profiling and detentions that are being directed against our Arab, South Asian, and Muslim brothers and sisters in this country.
But the events of September 11th were certainly not the first acts of terrorism to have occurred in this country. Since Columbus and the rest of the Europeans invaded our lands, Native people have been virtually non-stop victims of terrorism. I think of the slaughter of the Pequots at Mystic, Connecticut in 1637. I think of US military massacres of peaceful Native people at Wounded Knee and Sand Creek and so many, many other places. I think of the armed assault by the FBI on a peaceful encampment at Pine Ridge in the 1970s. In fact, the very foundations of this powerful and wealthy country are the theft of our lands and slaughter of Native peoples and the kidnapping and enslavement of our African-American sisters and brothers. And the US-assisted terrorism against Native peoples continues to this day in all too many countries in Central and South America. Native people were also the first victims of bioterrorism in this country. The illnesses that the Europeans brought devastated us. Many villages right here in this area were laid waste by European diseases brought by trading ships before the pilgrims arrived. But this destruction was not merely a biological accident. We know that smallpox was often spread intentionally, by Lord Jeffrey Amherst and others who distributed smallpox-infected blankets to our ancestors. Entire Native nations were wiped out as a result of this. I think that every Native person who is standing here today is a survivor of smallpox.
When I was in the Navy, I was stationed for many years in Japan. And one thing I know from living there: the greatest single acts of terrorism to date were not perpetrated by Osama bin Laden, but by the US military when it dropped atomic bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A large number of our Native people are veterans and have family members in the armed services. My oldest son, Wamsutta’s grandson, is in the army. I pray today that no more daughters, or sons, mothers, or fathers, will be called upon to put on a uniform and go to war.
Many of our great leaders were people of peace. Blackhawk once observed, "Why is it that you Americans always insist on taking with a gun what you could have through love?" We remember the teachings of peace and pray today that the cycles of violence and destruction will end. By continuing the cycle of violence, the US will continue to be the most despised country in many parts of the world, and the common people here and abroad will be the ones who suffer. We must continue to pray for justice and world peace.
And we express our grave concern that, as political repression increases in this country, prison conditions will get even worse for our brother Leonard Peltier and for the other political prisoners such as Mumia Abu Jamal.
These are indeed difficult times. But our ancestors and our traditions will give us the strength that we need. Always we must remember that we shall endure. A handful of us somehow managed to survive Columbus, and the conquistadores, and the pilgrims, and the French, and all the other invaders. Beautiful Native youth: remember what your ancestors went through to bring you here. We are like the dirt, like the sand, like the tides. We shall endure. The struggle will continue. In the spirit of Crazy Horse, in the spirit of Zapata, in the spirit of Metacom, in the spirit of Anna Mae Aquash, in the spirit of Geronimo. We are not vanishing. We are not conquered. We are as strong as ever.