[Marxism] A Native American perspective on "Thanksgiving"

usman x sandinista at shaw.ca
Fri Nov 28 13:27:43 MST 2003

-----Original Message-----
From: Hari Sharma

For your information and reflection.

hari sharma

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>Date: Thu, 27 Nov 2003 08:50:49 +0530 (IST)
>From: Shiva Shankar <sshankar at cmi.ac.in>
>Reply-To: Shiva Shankar <sshankar at cmi.ac.in>
>To: Undisclosed recipients:  ;
>Subject: A Native American perspective on "Thanksgiving" (fwd)
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>Thursday, November 27, 2003
>12 Noon
>Cole's Hill
>(the hill above Plymouth Rock)
>Plymouth, Massachusetts
>Join us as we dedicate the 34th National Day of Mourning to our brother,
>Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier. Add your voice to the millions
>worldwide who demand his freedom. Help us in our struggle to create a true
>awareness of Native people and demonstrate Native unity. Help shatter the
>untrue glass image of the Pilgrims and the unjust system based on racism,
>sexism, and homophobia.
>For More Information Contact:
>United American Indians of New England/LPSG
>PO Box 890082, Weymouth, MA 02189
>Phone and Fax: (781) 447-1926
>E-mail: uainendom at earthlink.net
>Website:  http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom
>Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning for Indians
>by Moonanum James and Mahtowin Munro
>Every year since 1970, United American Indians of New England have
>organized the National Day of Mourning observance in Plymouth at noon on
>Thanksgiving Day. Every year, hundreds of Native people and our supporters
>from all four directions join us. Every year, including this year, Native
>people from throughout the Americas will speak the truth about our history
>and about current issues and struggles we are involved in.
>Why do hundreds of people stand out in the cold rather than sit home
>eating turkey and watching football? Do we have something against a
>harvest festival?
>Of course not. But Thanksgiving in this country -- and in particular in
>Plymouth --is much more than a harvest home festival. It is a celebration
>of the pilgrim mythology.
>According to this mythology, the pilgrims arrived, the Native people fed
>them and welcomed them, the Indians promptly faded into the background,
>and everyone lived happily ever after.
>The truth is a sharp contrast to that mythology.
>The pilgrims are glorified and mythologized because the circumstances of
>the first English-speaking colony in Jamestown were frankly too ugly (for
>example, they turned to cannibalism to survive) to hold up as an effective
>national myth. The pilgrims did not find an empty land any more than
>Columbus "discovered" anything. Every inch of this land is Indian land.
>The pilgrims (who did not even call themselves pilgrims)  did not come
>here seeking religious freedom; they already had that in Holland. They
>came here as part of a commercial venture. They introduced sexism, racism,
>anti-lesbian and gay bigotry, jails, and the class system to these shores.
>One of the very first things they did when they arrived on Cape Cod --
>before they even made it to Plymouth -- was to rob Wampanoag graves at
>Corn Hill and steal as much of the Indians' winter provisions of corn and
>beans as they were able to carry. They were no better than any other group
>of Europeans when it came to their treatment of the Indigenous peoples
>The first official "Day of Thanksgiving" was proclaimed in 1637 by
>Governor Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of men from the
>Massachusetts Bay Colony who had gone to Mystic, Connecticut to
>participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children, and men.
>About the only true thing in the whole mythology is that these pitiful
>European strangers would not have survived their first several years in
>"New England" were it not for the aid of Wampanoag people. What Native
>people got in return for this help was genocide, theft of our lands, and
>never-ending repression. We are treated either as quaint relics from the
>past, or are, to most people, virtually invisible.
>When we dare to stand up for our rights, we are considered unreasonable.
>When we speak the truth about the history of the European invasion, we are
>often told to "go back where we came from." Our roots are right here. They
>do not extend across any ocean.
>National Day of Mourning began in 1970 when a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta
>Frank James, was asked to speak at a state dinner celebrating the 350th
>anniversary of the pilgrim landing. He refused to speak false words in
>praise of the white man for bringing civilization to us poor heathens.
>Native people from throughout the Americas came to Plymouth, where they
>mourned their forebears who had been sold into slavery, burned alive,
>massacred, cheated, and mistreated since the arrival of the Pilgrims in
>But the commemoration of National Day of Mourning goes far beyond the
>circumstances of 1970.
>Can we give thanks as we remember Native political prisoner Leonard
>Peltier, who was framed up by the FBI and has been falsely imprisoned
>since 1976? Despite mountains of evidence exonerating Peltier and the
>proven misconduct of federal prosecutors and the FBI, Peltier has been
>denied a new trial. Bill Clinton apparently does not feel that particular
>pain and has refused to grant clemency to this innocent man.
>To Native people, the case of Peltier is one more ordeal in a litany of
>wrongdoings committed by the U.S. government against us. While the media
>in New England present images of the "Pequot miracle" in Connecticut, the
>vast majority of Native people continue to live in the most abysmal
>Can we give thanks for the fact that, on many reservations, unemployment
>rates surpass fifty percent? Our life expectancies are much lower, our
>infant mortality and teen suicide rates much higher, than those of white
>Americans. Racist stereotypes of Native people, such as those perpetuated
>by the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, and countless local and
>national sports teams, persist. Every single one of the more than 350
>treaties that Native nations signed has been broken by the U.S.
>government. The bipartisan budget cuts have severely reduced educational
>opportunities for Native youth and the development of new housing on
>reservations, and have caused cause deadly cutbacks in health-care and
>other necessary services.
>Are we to give thanks for being treated as unwelcome in our own country?
>Or perhaps we are expected to give thanks for the war that is being waged
>by the Mexican government against Indigenous peoples there, with the
>military aid of the U.S. in the form of helicopters and other equipment?
>When the descendants of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca flee to the U.S., the
>descendants of the wash-ashore pilgrims term them 'illegal aliens" and
>hunt them down.
>We object to the "Pilgrim Progress" parade and to what goes on in Plymouth
>because they are making millions of tourist dollars every year from the
>false pilgrim mythology. That money is being made off the backs of our
>slaughtered indigenous ancestors.
>Increasing numbers of people are seeking alternatives to such holidays as
>Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. They are coming to the conclusion that, if
>we are ever to achieve some sense of community, we must first face the
>truth about the history of this country and the toll that history has
>taken on the lives of millions of Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian, and
>poor and working class white people.
>The myth of Thanksgiving, served up with dollops of European superiority
>and manifest destiny, just does not work for many people in this country.
>As Malcolm X once said about the African-American experience in America,
>"We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us."  Exactly.
>[Mahtowin Munro (Lakota) and Moonanum James (Wampanoag)  are co-leaders of
>United American Indians of New England.]
>from http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom/wmsuta.htm
>To have been delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1970
>ABOUT THE DOCUMENT: Three hundred fifty years after the Pilgrims began
>their invasion of the land of the Wampanoag, their "American"  descendants
>planned an anniversary celebration. Still clinging to the white schoolbook
>myth of friendly relations between their forefathers and the Wampanoag,
>the anniversary planners thought it would be nice to have an Indian make
>an appreciative and complimentary speech at their state dinner. Frank
>James was asked to speak at the celebration. He accepted. The planners,
>however, asked to see his speech in advance of the occasion, and it
>turned out that Frank James' views — based on history rather than
>mythology — were not what the Pilgrims' descendants wanted to hear. Frank
>James refused to deliver a speech written by a public relations person.
>Frank James did not speak at the anniversary celebration. If he had
>spoken, this is what he would have said:
>I speak to you as a man -- a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my
>ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction ("You must
>succeed - your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod
>community!"). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two
>social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and sisters, have
>painfully overcome, and to some extent we have earned the respect of our
>community. We are Indians first - but we are termed "good citizens."
>Sometimes we are arrogant but only because society has pressured us to be
>It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a
>time of celebration for you - celebrating an anniversary of a beginning
>for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is
>with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.
>Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to
>capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220
>shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod
>for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen
>their corn and beans. Mourt's Relation describes a searching party of
>sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the
>Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry.
>Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and
>his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth
>Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an
>epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for
>his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was
>perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white
>man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end;
>that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free
>What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened in the last 300
>years? History gives us facts and there were atrocities; there were broken
>promises - and most of these centered around land ownership. Among
>ourselves we understood that there were boundaries, but never before had
>we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white man had a need
>to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned. Only ten years
>later, when the Puritans came, they treated the Wampanoag with even less
>kindness in converting the souls of the so-called "savages."  Although the
>Puritans were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was
>pressed between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any other "witch."
>And so down through the years there is record after record of Indian lands
>taken and, in token, reservations set up for him upon which to live. The
>Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch
>while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain. This
>the Indian could not understand; for to him, land was survival, to farm,
>to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after
>incident, where the white man sought to tame the "savage" and convert him
>to the Christian ways of life. The early Pilgrim settlers led the Indian
>to believe that if he did not behave, they would dig up the ground and
>unleash the great epidemic again.
>The white man used the Indian's nautical skills and abilities. They let
>him be only a seaman -- but never a captain. Time and time again, in the
>white man's society, we Indians have been termed "low man on the totem
>Has the Wampanoag really disappeared? There is still an aura of mystery.
>We know there was an epidemic that took many Indian lives - some
>Wampanoags moved west and joined the Cherokee and Cheyenne. They were
>forced to move. Some even went north to Canada! Many Wampanoag put aside
>their Indian heritage and accepted the white man's way for their own
>survival. There are some Wampanoag who do not wish it known they are
>Indian for social or economic reasons.
>What happened to those Wampanoags who chose to remain and live among the
>early settlers? What kind of existence did they live as "civilized"
>people? True, living was not as complex as life today, but they dealt with
>the confusion and the change. Honesty, trust, concern, pride, and politics
>wove themselves in and out of their [the Wampanoags'] daily living. Hence,
>he was termed crafty, cunning, rapacious, and dirty.
>History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate,
>uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized,
>disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined
>entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must
>control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature
>decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the
>white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has
>dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry
>as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood.
>The white man in the presence of the Indian is still mystified by his
>uncanny ability to make him feel uncomfortable. This may be the image the
>white man has created of the Indian; his "savageness" has boomeranged and
>isn't a mystery; it is fear; fear of the Indian's temperament!
>High on a hill, overlooking the famed Plymouth Rock, stands the statue of
>our great Sachem, Massasoit. Massasoit has stood there many years in
>silence. We the descendants of this great Sachem have been a silent
>people. The necessity of making a living in this materialistic society of
>the white man caused us to be silent. Today, I and many of my people are
>choosing to face the truth. We ARE Indians!
>Although time has drained our culture, and our language is almost extinct,
>we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of Massachusetts. We may be
>fragmented, we may be confused. Many years have passed since we have been
>a people together. Our lands were invaded. We fought as hard to keep our
>land as you the whites did to take our land away from us. We were
>conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many cases, and
>wards of the United States Government, until only recently.
>Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the woodland paths and
>sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam highways and roads. We are
>uniting. We're standing not in our wigwams but in your concrete tent. We
>stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we'll right the
>wrongs we have allowed to happen to us.
>We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the
>aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep us on our knees. What has
>happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane
>America, a more Indian America, where men and nature once again are
>important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and brotherhood
>You the white man are celebrating an anniversary. We the Wampanoags will
>help you celebrate in the concept of a beginning. It was the beginning of
>a new life for the Pilgrims. Now, 350 years later it is a beginning of a
>new determination for the original American: the American Indian.
>There are some factors concerning the Wampanoags and other Indians across
>this vast nation. We now have 350 years of experience living amongst the
>white man. We can now speak his language. We can now think as a white man
>thinks. We can now compete with him for the top jobs.  We're being heard;
>we are now being listened to. The important point is that along with these
>necessities of everyday living, we still have the spirit, we still have
>the unique culture, we still have the will and, most important of all, the
>determination to remain as Indians. We are determined, and our presence
>here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning of
>the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to regain the position in
>this country that is rightfully ours.
>September 10, 1970

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