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PORTSIDE  November 2011, Week 4

PORTSIDE November 2011, Week 4

Subject:

Thanksgiving: The National Day of Mourning

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Thu, 24 Nov 2011 22:58:42 -0500

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Thanksgiving: The National Day of Mourning

Text of 1970 speech by Wampsutta -An Aquinnah Wampanoag
Elder

Cover Story
The Black Commentator 
November 24, 2011 - Issue 449 

http://www.blackcommentator.com/449/449_cover_thanksgiving_national_day_of_mourning_share.html

[When Frank James (1923 - February 20, 2001), known to the
Wampanoag people as Wampsutta, was invited to speak by the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts at the 1970 annual
Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth. When the text of Mr. James'
speech, a powerful statement of anger at the history of
oppression of the Native people of America, became known
before the event, the Commonwealth "disinvited" him.
Wampsutta was not prepared to have his speech revised by the
Pilgrims. He left the dinner and the ceremonies and went to
the hill near the statue of the Massasoit, who as the leader
of the Wampanoags when the Pilgrims landed in their
territory. There overlooking Plymouth Harbor, he looked at
the replica of the Mayflower. It was there that he gave his
speech that was to be given to the Pilgrims and their
guests. There eight or ten Indians and their supporters
listened in indignation as Frank talked of the takeover of
the Wampanoag tradition, culture, religion, and land.

That silencing of a strong and honest Native voice led to
the convening of the National Day of Mourning. The following
is the text of 1970 speech by Wampsutta, an Aquinnah
Wampanoag elder and Native American activist.]

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 so.

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 people.

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 pole."

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 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.

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.

=====

42nd National Day of Mourning
November 24, 2011
12:00 noon
Coles Hill Plymouth, MA

United American Indians of New England (UAINE)
http://www.uaine.org/

==========

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