An article from Do or Die Issue 7. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 122-124.
"We are not vanishing. We are not conquered. We are as strong as ever."
- United American Indians of New England.
Thanksgiving Day is the essence of America, one of the cornerstones on which the USA rests its pride. Not surprising then, really that it is celebrating genocide, and will use brutal force to silence those who try to expose the lies that surround it.
NOV. 28, 1997 - An annual American Indian gathering in Plymouth, MA on Thanksgiving Day turned violent when police confronted a group of Indians trying to march through the historic district of town. Reports vary in the number of protesters involved, indicating that anywhere from 100 to 200 members of the United American Indians of New England were present for a peaceful National Day of Mourning. Witnesses said that the group was set upon by police after the media left, and were beaten and gassed. Twenty-five of the group were arrested. Among those who were beaten were elders like a 70 year old woman and a 97 year old man. They face charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly, police said. Some witnesses indicate that mace was sprayed directly into the faces of some Indians.
Earlier in the day a group of historical re-enacters dressed as pilgrims had marched through the area to commemorate the first Thanksgiving without incident. When some of the Indian demonstrators tried to argue that they had a right to freedom of speech and assembly as well, they were beaten for their trouble.
Every year since 1970, United American Indians of New England have organised 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 American 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 mythologised 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, beans, and wheat 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 here. And no, they did not even land at that sacred shrine called Plymouth Rock, a monument to racism and oppression which we are proud to say we buried in 1995.
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 civilisation 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 1620.
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. [See Prisoner section for contact details.]
To Native people, the case of Peltier is one more ordeal in a litany of wrongdoings committed by the U.S. government against us. The media in New England present images of the "Pequot miracle": a small Native Nation in Connecticut who run the most successful Native casino in the country, and make a ton of money from it. The problem is that while some non-Native people now assume that all Native peoples are making big bucks from casinos, the vast majority continue to live in the most abysmal poverty.
Can we give thanks for the fact that, on many reservations, unemployment rates exceed fifty percent? Our life expectancies are much lower, and 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 (enacted by Republicans and Democrats alike) have severely reduced both educational opportunities for Native youth and the development of new housing on reservations, and have caused deadly cutbacks in health-care and other necessary services. These cuts primarily target social welfare programs while the corporations get richer every day. Poor people, elders, immigrants, people of colour, women and children have felt the greatest impact from this assault on the poor. Many states are literally throwing people off welfare and telling them that they have to find a job. [Sound familiar?!] The problem is that many jobs do not pay enough for people to survive; further, in many areas (e.g., rural Indian reservations), there are no jobs to be found. There are increasing numbers of homeless families.
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 military aid from 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.
Why did the cops attack a peaceful march? Why did they drag a Native man by his hair when they arrested him? Why did they arrest a peaceful Native elder and medicine person? Why did they intimidate and assault other elders? Why did they attack children with pepper spray? Why did they tear out the dreadlocks of a proud Black Man? Why did they arrest people who were standing on the sidewalk? Why did they force pepper spray into the eyes, noses and mouths of people who had already been handcuffed? Why did they single out people who wore buttons and T-shirts expressing support for Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier? Did these cops go home afterwards and stuff their faces with turkey? Did they sit down with their own families after they had attacked our families? Did they give thanks for keeping Plymouth's 377-year-old tradition of racism intact?
The most sickening part of what happened is that the police attack was executed simply to protect the sacred image of the pilgrims and the sacred image of Plymouth as a tourist shrine. The cop assault was planned and carried out simply to protect the tourist industry in Plymouth. The bottom line is not the safety of women, children, elders and other people, but the protection of business interests. The human and civil rights of people of colour - and especially of Indigenous people - are expendable when money is to be made or tourists might be inconvenienced. The police assault has backfired in their faces. They have shown in graphic detail the truth of what we have been saying all along. Did we attempt to destroy their precious property? No! Did we threaten or attack a single person? No! Our "crime" was to speak the truth about our history. Our "crime" was to attempt to go down the street like free human beings. Our "crime" was to support Leonard Peltier and other political prisoners. Our "crime" was to unify people from all four directions, to bring them together to denounce the pilgrim mythology upon which the tourism industry in Plymouth depends.
We point out to all the media here that the responsibility rests not only with the town of Plymouth but with various state authorities. Massachusetts state troopers played a leading role in the cop assault on innocent people. It was clear to us and to other observers that the cops had been trained in so-called counterinsurgency tactics and had been training for some time. There were also plainclothes cops there from unknown agencies. Who were they? What agencies did they represent?
We ask that our supporters be on alert and stand by, because we will be planning additional actions, and something for next Thanksgiving too!
UAINE are asking for support from around the world. Let the guvermint know that the world is watching. Send letters of support.
PO Box 7501
Quincy, MASS, 02269