Members of Native American tribes from around New England gather in the coastal town where the pilgrims settled – not to thank, but to mourn the indigenous peoples of the world who have suffered centuries of racism and ill-treatment.
Thursday’s solemn national day of mourning in downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts, will commemorate the illness and oppression that they say European settlers brought to North America.
“We natives have no reason to celebrate the arrival of the pilgrims,” said Kisha James, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag and Oglala Lakota tribes and the granddaughter of Wamsutta Frank James, the event’s founder.
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“We want to educate people so that they understand the stories we all learned in school about the first Thanksgiving are nothing but lies. Wampanoag and other indigenous peoples have certainly not lived happily ever after the arrival of the pilgrims,” James said.
“For us, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning because we remember the millions of our ancestors who were murdered by uninvited European colonists such as the pilgrims. Today we and many indigenous peoples around the country say, ‘No Thanks, No Giving. ‘”
It is the 52nd year that the United American Indians in New England have hosted the event on Thanksgiving Day. The tradition began in 1970.
The story comes when several college students and alumni groups across the country urged students to treat Thanksgiving as a day of remembrance for Indians, with the George Washington University Student Association on Monday sending an email to students saying “Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of indigenous people. “
“While acknowledging the importance of thanking and spending time with family and friends, we must also recognize that for many in our community, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning,” the email said.
Along with the students from George Washington University, the alumni associations were from University of Maryland, Florida Gulf Coast University, Washington State University, Hiram College in Ohio and California State University, Long Beach, who attended an event asking if Americans should “reconsider” the Thanksgiving holiday.
“From 1970 onwards, many Americans, led by original protesters, believed that Thanksgiving should be rededicated as a national day of mourning to reflect the centuries-long expulsion and persecution of Native Americans. The recent shift from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day reflects a changing national mood. “Should Americans reconsider Thanksgiving as they contend with our country’s complicated past?”
Indigenous people and their followers gathered at noon in person on Cole’s Hill, a windswept hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, a memorial to the arrival of the colonists. They will also livestream the event.
Participants pounded drums, offered prayers, and condemned what organizers described as “the unjust system based on racism, settler colonialism, sexism, homophobia, and the profit-driven destruction of the Earth” before marching through downtown Plymouth’s historic district.
This year, they highlighted the problematic legacy of federal boarding schools trying to assimilate native youth in the white community in the United States as well as in Canada, where hundreds of corpses were allegedly discovered due to former residential schools for native children.
Brian Moskwetah Weeden, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, told Boston Public Radio earlier this week that Americans owe his tribe a gratitude for helping pilgrims survive their first brutal winter.
“People need to understand that you have to be grateful every single 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 was not reciprocated in the long run, Weeden added.
“That’s why, 400 years later, we’re still sitting here fighting for the little bit of land we still have, trying to hold the Commonwealth and the federal government accountable,” he said.
“Because 400 years later, we do not really have much to show for or be grateful for. So I think it’s important for everyone to be grateful for our ancestors who helped the pilgrims survive and in a way played a intricate role in the birth of this nation. “
The Associated Press contributed to this report.