Thanksgiving ‘Day of Mourning’ Event Commemorates Ongoing Struggle of Indigenous People in North America

Excerpt of speech by Matowin Munro, United American Indians of New England, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

This year’s (so-called) Thanksgiving holiday marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, but was then Wampanoag indigenous territory. The date also marks the 50th anniversary of the Day of Mourning, which began in 1970, but it also is the 51st consecutive commemoration. The event is held at three important sites in Plymouth to remember what indigenous people have lost and what they are still fighting for.

In 1970, Wampanoag tribal member Frank Wamsutta James was asked by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to deliver a speech on Thanksgiving Day as a sign of brotherhood between whites and native people on the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing. But Wamsutta’s speech was not acceptable to the white organizers of the event, because he told the true story of the first Thanksgiving encounter. So instead, he gave his speech on Cole’s Hill, where a statue of the Wampanoag leader Massasoit stands overlooking the harbor, and where a replica of the Mayflower and the much-diminished Plymouth Rock are located.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the turnout was somewhat smaller this year, but the event was live-streamed for the first time, so many more people could attend remotely. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus recorded the speeches, including that of United American Indians of New England Co-Leader Matowin Munro. The following segment is the first and last part of Munro’s speech.

MATOWIN MUNRO: Here we are, deep in the heartland of colonialism. Here we are, a place where great dying occurred, overlooking a harbor where Wampanoag, Nipmuc, Massachusett and other indigenous captives were shipped off as slaves. Let’s take a moment to think about those who are no longer with us. Our elders leave us and they take so much knowledge with them when they do. We feel lonely without them, but we also feel our ancestors here beside us, holding us up today. We pray for those who cannot be here with us today, for all of the people in communities hit hard by Covid, especially indigenous and Black and Latinx communities, with much higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths. We think of all the indigenous people throughout this hemisphere who are being swept away by this horrible disease, from British Columbia to Brazil. As of yesterday, the hard-hit Navajo nation has had more than 15,000 positive cases and 638 deaths. Many other communities are suffering tremendously. Our people all too often lack basic resources – clean water for washing, decent health care and other things that would help to reduce the amount of sickness and death. But indigenous people are largely trapped under governments that do not care about our future, and fail to take the necessary steps to make sure we are all protected. When native nations ask for government help, they may be sent body bags instead of much-needed supplies. Or the bureaucrats want to fight over sending relief money to tribes. To the settler governments, the saying, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” seems to remain true to this day.

We think today of the many people and allies who are unable to be here with us. The epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirits continues. Yesterday brought devastating news about a local missing Mashpee/Wampanoag teen, Jalaysia Finkley, whose body was believed to have been found in Florida. Today, we offer our deepest condolences to her family and her community.

We acknowledge the many struggles that all of you have carried here today: from the many efforts to stop pipelines and the Weymouth compressor station, to the ongoing work to free Puerto Rico, to the attempted desecration of Mauna Kea by scientists who lack respect for indigenous sacred places, to occupied Palestine, and we say loudly, here and now, and forever, Black Lives Matter! (applause)

I end by talking about #LANDBACK again, something on the lips of many indigenous people. Treaties need to be honored. Lands need to be returned. There are ways to start the process of decolonizing the lands and to address climate collapse, right now. First, ensure that no projects can go through any indigenous nations’ land without free, prior and informed consent. Second, take all of the land that’s currently being mismanaged by all the settler governments, such as the national parks or the Amazon rain forest, and let indigenous nations manage that land. That would mean the restoration of millions of acres of our lands to us. It would also mean the end of the desecration of many sacred sites, such as the Black Hills or sacred Oak Flat. Third, cancel all the leases, pipelines, mining and corporate contracts, and let indigenous people decide what should developments should continue and what should not.

I don’t want anyone who hears this to feel like you should give up, despite how hard 2020 has been. We can fight together for climate justice. We can take care of each other, and do our best to mask up and reduce the spread of this plague. We can end settler colonialism. We can reclaim our lands. We are not vanishing, we are not conquered, we are as strong as ever. (applause)

For more information, visit United American Indians of New England at

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