National Day of Mourning (United States protest)

The National Day of Mourning is an annual demonstration, held on the fourth Thursday in November, that aims to educate the public about Native Americans in the United States, notably the Wampanoag and other tribes of the Eastern United States; dispel myths surrounding the Thanksgiving story in the United States; and raise awareness toward historical and ongoing struggles facing Native American tribes. The first National Day of Mourning demonstration was held in 1970 after Frank "Wamsutta" James's speaking invitation was rescinded from a Massachusetts Thanksgiving Day celebration commemorating the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower. James instead delivered his speech on Cole's Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts next to a statue of Ousamequin, where he described Native American perspectives on the Thanksgiving celebrations. The gathering became an annual event organized by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE) and coincides with both Thanksgiving Day in the United States and with Unthanksgiving Day, an annual ceremony held on Alcatraz Island in California.

National Day of Mourning
National Day of Mourning Plaque.jpg
The National Day of Mourning plaque on Cole's Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts
Observed byNative Americans in the United States
SignificanceHonoring ancestors, acknowledging current struggles of Native people, remembrance, spiritual connection, protest of racism and oppression, dispelling of Thanksgiving mythology
ObservancesGathering and protest held in lieu of Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States
DateFourth Thursday in November
2021 date25 November
2022 date24 November
2023 date23 November
2024 dateNovember 28  (2024-11-28)
FrequencyAnnual
Related toThanksgiving (United States)
Unthanksgiving Day

HistoryEdit

Frank "Wamsutta" James' speech cancelledEdit

In the fall of 1970, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held a commemorative Thanksgiving celebration on the 350th anniversary of the first landing of the Mayflower. The event's organizers, including Governor Francis Sargent, invited Frank "Wamsutta" James to speak at the event. James was the leader of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head and president of the Federated Eastern Indian League.[1][2][3][4]

The event's organizers requested to review James' speech in advance of the event. Once it had been reviewed, James was informed that he would not be permitted to give the speech as written. An alternate speech, written by the event's public relations team, was provided to him.[3][2][4] A representative from the Department of Commerce and Development explained to James that

"...the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place."
Representative for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, November 1970[2]

Initial eventEdit

Wamsutta Frank James, Tall Oak Weeden, Gary Parker, Shirley Mills, Rayleen Bey, and several other people organized speakers, recruited attendees on a national scale, and arranged accommodations for out-of-town guests.

The first National Day of Mourning event was held on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1970 on Cole's Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts. James delivered an amended speech[1] beside a statue of Ousamequin, including

"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 prevail.


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."
Frank "Wamsutta" James, first National Day of Mourning, November 26, 1970[2][4]

The event was attended by close to 500 Native Americans from throughout the United States[1] and has been held annually on the fourth Thursday in November every year since. James' speech was one of the first public criticisms of the Thanksgiving story from Native American groups.[2]

Later protestsEdit

The United American Indians of New England (UAINE) continues to organize the annual National Day of Mourning rally at Cole's Hill.[5] The event's objectives include

  • Education around the history of the Wampanoag people[6]
  • Dispelling of the mythology commonly taught as part of the Thanksgiving story[7]
  • Awareness of historical and ongoing struggles of Native American tribes[6]

Controversy 1995-97Edit

At the 1995 event, protestors dumped sand and seaweed Plymouth Rock as part of the demonstration. In 1997, police attacked peaceful National Day of Mourning marchers, which included the use of pepper spray. 25 marchers were arrested and charged with misdemeanor as well as felony crimes. Plymouth agreed to drop the charges in a 1998 settlement with UAINE.

Modern commemorationEdit

 
Cole's Hill in Plymouth, where the annual National Day of Mourning gathering is held.

The National Day of Mourning protest is held annually at Cole's Hill and is attended by several hundred participants.[8][4] Estimates of attendance in 2021 range from 1,000 - 2,000.[9] Frank James' son Roland Moonanum James continued to be involved in the event until his death in December 2020[10][2], and Frank's granddaughter Kisha James helps organize it in her role as UAINE youth coordinator. Mahtowin Munro has been co-leader since the 1990s.[8]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rally was held both in-person and virtually, and over 1600 people tuned in to the livestream and more than 20,000 to the online video.[8]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c Hill, Jessica (November 19, 2020). "Not all Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. Find out why". Cape Cod Times. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Seay, Bob (November 26, 2020). "For Native Americans, It's Not Thanksgiving — It's A National Day Of Mourning". WGBH.org. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Background Information". United American Indians of New England. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "The National Day of Mourning". Pilgrim Hall Museum. Archived from the original on July 2, 2002. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  5. ^ Newton, Creede (November 26, 2020). "Indigenous say 'no thanks, no giving' 400 years after Mayflower". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  6. ^ a b "November 26, 1970: First 'National Day of Mourning' Held in Plymouth". massmoments.org. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  7. ^ Mehren, Elizabeth (December 3, 1997). "The Peace Pipe Eludes Modern 'Pilgrims' and Indians". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c Berg, Matt (November 26, 2020). "Native American Thanksgiving protest draws thousands with virtual event". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  9. ^ Krantz, Laura. ""We are strong as ever" indigenous people across region beyond mark day of remembrance". Boston Globe.Tensley, Brandon. " ""National Day of Mourning turns Thanksgiving into something more honest"". CNN.
  10. ^ "Roland Moonamun James". The Vineyard Gazette. December 17, 2020. Archived from the original on November 14, 2021. Retrieved November 14, 2021.

Further readingEdit

  • "Frank James (Wamsutta, 1923-2001) National Day of Mourning," in Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England edited by Siobhan Senior (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014), 455–458.

External linksEdit