One of my friend Jorge’s coworkers is a First Nations citizen in Colorado. Last year, she told me that her family does not celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday. They have a moment of silence and remember the very first Thanksgiving Day and what has happened since the beginning of the Great European Invasion of their lands.
“Bina” told me she grew up as a member of the Arapaho nation in eastern Colorado. When she was an elementary age girl, “Bina” learned about one of the first American Thanksgivings from an uncle. He said that Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop proclaimed the first official “Day of Thanksgiving” in 1637.
The event was proclaimed to give thanks for the return of the men who had gone to fight the Wampanoag and Pequot natives. The most infamous massacre was the killing of over 700 Pequot men, women, and children.
As “Bina” grew older, she investigated more history of the interactions between native peoples and European-Americans. Her family elders said the standard story about the “First Thanksgiving” is mainly a myth that has become an accepted part of mainstream culture.
“Bina” learned that the Pilgrims didn’t even call themselves by that name. The Pilgrims didn’t even come in search of “religious freedom” because they had already found that in the Netherlands. The settlers immigrated for commercial reasons and to spread their version of culture that included racism, sexism, homophobia, incarceration, and classism. None of these ideas were present in the original native culture of that part of North America.
Jorge’s friend told me to look into information from the “United American Indians of New England” if I wanted to know more. So, I decided to investigate the UAINE website to find out specifics of the National Day of Mourning. They explained their commemoration. “We are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands. NDOM is a day when we mourn, but we also feel our strength in political action. Over the years, participants in Day of Mourning have buried Plymouth Rock a number of times, boarded the Mayflower replica, and placed ku klux klan sheets on the statue of William Bradford, etc.”
The commemorative day began when Wampanoag leader Wamsutta, also known as Frank James, was invited to speak at the official Plymouth, Massachusetts Thanksgiving gathering in 1970. His speech topic was about one Pilgrim’s first-hand account of the first year in the colony. That account described that Pilgrim’s version of the abuse and exploitation of the native population.
The Thanksgiving committee said Wamsutta’s speech was inflamatory, so they rejected it. A new text was written for him. In response, Wamsutta declined the invitation and instead organized a protest. It was the 1970 protest at Plymouth that evolved into the National Day of Mourning. The event is now recognized by several First Nations peoples across North America.
The UAINE website stated that it aims to educate the American public with a more truthful, accurate story of events that took place in 1637 and thereafter. Their purpose is to honor the ancestors and their legacy.
The Blue Jay of Happiness looks at President John F. Kennedy’s Thanksgiving statement in a new light. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”