How Thanksgiving Became the National Day of Mourning for the Wampanoag Native Americans

When I was young, it was ok for people to celebrate the myth of Thanksgiving as it had been told to us for hundreds of years. The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth rock and were met by some very friendly “Indians”.

These Indians quickly became friends with the Pilgrims. In a way of celebrating both the Pilgrim/Indian friendship and the wonderful harvest that the Pilgrims and the Indians worked together to cultivate…Thanksgiving was born.

Now as time goes on and the country becomes more and more politically correct we can see that the story behind Thanksgiving was based mostly on mythology and it has gone through great changes. This is, in part, due to the Wampanog tribe of Native Americans but more specifically a man named Frank B. James, the one time leader of the Wampanog tribe.

How did the Wampanog tribe of Native Americans turn Thanksgiving into the National Day of Mourning?

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts had decided back in 1970 to invite the then leader of the Wampanoag Native American tribe to Plymouth Mass, the site of the “first Thanksgiving”, and give a speech about the meaning Thanksgiving. The speech was set to take place on the top of Cole’s Hill.

Once the Commonwealth of Massachusetts realized that the Wampanoag tribe leader, Frank B. James, intended to speak out about the misconceptions of Thanksgiving and the way that the Native Americans were actually treated, they decided to un-invite him as a public speaker. This, however, did not stop the Wampanog Native American tribe, it’s leader Frank B. James, or it’s supporters.

Convening at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth Mass, The Wampanoag Native American tribe declared that the Fourth Sunday of November would no longer be known to Native Americans as Thanksgiving. They would now use this day as a way of protesting the Thanksgiving myth of how Native Americans were actually treated…The National Day Of Mourning was born.

National Day Of Mourning Will Continue

Since that first gathering, Native Americans and their supporters have gathered on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth Massachusetts on the Fourth Thursday of November at twelve noon to commemorate The National Day of Mourning. There has been a plaque placed on Cole’s Hill at the yearly meeting site which reads:

“Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in a National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”

Cole's Hill Plymouth MA National Day of Mourning

I can certainly understand why Native Americans would take issue with their whole country celebrating the way that their people were murdered and their land overtaken. See I don’t know exactly what happened because A) I wasn’t there B) my “perfect world” history books told a story of two different types of people coming together to give thanks for their newfound relationship with each other.

The Wampanoag Native American tribe has been quoted as saying they will continue with their National Day of Mourning ceremonies and rallies until American history books reflect what truly happened to their people once the Pilgrims came to this country. While I think we have made definite steps in that direction…I can’t see that happening for a long, long time, if ever.

14 thoughts on “How Thanksgiving Became the National Day of Mourning for the Wampanoag Native Americans

  1. Believe me, I don’t dispute that what our history books show as Thanksgiving didn’t happen that way. I just question how many people sit down to their Turkey dinner giving thanks to the Pilgrims and the Indians anymore.

    I think Thanksgiving has taken on a different meaning of just giving thanks in general about our lives. At least that’s how it is for me.

  2. Hello to my cousin Russell Peters, My mother Zira Thomas is his cousin, Iwas raised in New York. So not much known aboutthe National day of mourning out side of the Native Community. And its not observed as it should be. There should at least be mention of the National day of mournings importance in the media. I grew up in the American Indian Community House in NYC. So there was always mention of the National Day of Mourning and respect for the Wamponoag people during the thanksgiving. I hope to see in the future recognition of the concerns of the native peoples.

  3. Not really Erin. I work in elementary schools. They still cut out and color pictures of “indians” and pilgrims. Pilgrims are depicted as kindly gentle people when they were actually hate filled violent monsters. Whether or not it is being spoken out loud, it is deeply ingrained in american consciousness that this is a holiday that stems from a friendly feast between two peoples. On top of it, the holiday has become little more than a break from jobs people hate and a pretext to month long manic shopping fests. The whole holiday is disgusting from start to finish. And americans need to get in contact with reality. If you want to have a celebration, find something positive and truthful to celebrate. It’s just one more example in a long list of hypocritical, demented american hoaxes.

    In order to heal, all americans should join these people in mourning on this day, return the land to the natives, revere their culture in text books and find a day to celebrate that.

    (as I write this, there is an advertisement for a national chain store yelling out “shop all day thursday”)

  4. Erin, I agree with you, I doubt too many intelligent Americans actually believe the Native Americans and our ancestral Europeans who came here had such a happy togetherness however I think Sarah’s obvious anti-American hatred runs a bit deep.
    I would believe that almost all modern day celebrations, regardless of country or religion, are bred out of at least some myth and half (or at least long forgotten) truth.
    Asking us to all leave the US and “return the land to the natives” is at best, an unintelligent solution.

  5. Thanksgiving is a celebration of cultures and the grattitude I feel for living in a country where all beliefs can be practiced without persecution. I am an adopted person of mixed heritage. I am not responsible for what horrors were put upon the Native Americans, and feel saddened that somebody like Sarah needs to live in the past. My people were sold as sex slaves and railroad workers, we were interned in prison camps for having slanted eyes, I don’t obsess what was done to my ancesestors, I learn from it. I move forward day to day and ask how I can make this country a better place for my children. The way we do that is to celebrate Thanksgiving in the spirit it was intended, with family and loved ones from every walk of life. I hate what has been done to Native Americans, but saying Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the end is just saying America would be a better place with no white people, which is just as racist and biggoted as the manner in which Native Americans were treated We’re here, all of us from everywhere, move on, and think of how we can help Native Americans in the now, and not obsess about the past.

    • Thank you, Sukie, I wholeheartedly agree. My extended family and I use Thanksgiving as a day to gather together, thank God (yes, I believe in God, and am thankful that I live in a country that allows me to do this openly) for each other, our health, and whatever else we are grateful for. While I am ashamed of what my white ancestors did to the Native Americans and the slaves, and do not condone any kind of prejudice or hate, I have not committed the crimes of the past and can only give thanks for what I have now, and teach my children to love ALL people. Thanksgiving is an old word, given new meaning in today’s celebrations. I feel sorry for those who continue to carry anger into the day of another’s joy. We are not celebrating the sorrow of another people when we are acknowledging the blessings of our own. Remember the past, but let go of the anger. You’ll live longer and be a happier person.

    • Great post Sukie… I could not have said this better. I know I am way late on this now, but it has come up recently so I felt compelled to respond.

  6. i think the whiteman/woman, needs to make a govt. day where we apologize to the Native Amer Indians, AFrican Americans and Palestinians-i mean white people in Europe and U.S. no more thanksgiving-i’m a white woman and i’ll say it for the record:
    I’M SORRY!

    • Why are you apologiznig Anne? You didn’t do this! I am no more responsible for the treatment of indian when they were put on reservations, as I am for the treatment of slaves or the chinese or anyone else. These things happened many years ago and to tell a white person that was not there, who’s parents were not even there, that they need to apologize at this point is bullshit. I wish these things hadn’t happened either, but it wasn’t my fault and it is certainly not yours. We learn and have a better world now than we did back then. Thanksgiving is for appreciation of the good things in our life, anyone that sees it differently than that is twisted.

  7. Ah, this is so sad. It seems that the more we learn of the White Man’s Ways in settling & building this country – the more SAD it becomes. I do think there were very good ideals that were put forth in our DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCE & CONSTITUTION but look at the politics today. It is worse than ever.

    However, White males had & HAVE serious issues of “entitlement” because even in those documents – just mentioned – the RIGHTS & PRIVILEGES were ORIGINALLY only for WHITE MALES.

    If we are to TRULY be this shining nation the World admires – we must admit our mistakes & acts of barbarism. WE are that much better a country when apologies & acknowledgements are given. For the World has seen & is still seeing totally unconscionable behaviors – that the human race should have long evolved beyond but has not.

    We, in the USA, have made PROGRESS. These RIGHTS & PRIVILEGES now include us ALL & females, as well. But it’s been a long hard fought battle and there is STILL a lot of work to do. I believe there should be a NATIONAL DAY of Apology to all Peoples & their ancestors who were harmed by their lives here. The bigoted, the prejudiced, cruel, ignorant & uncaring SHOULD be made aware of just what their ancestors & even today’s citizens have done and ARE doing. I believe that “enlightenment” starts with AWARENESS & an open heart.

    I think the Wampanoag Peoples have every RIGHT to MOURN Thanksgiving. I still don’t know all of what was done to these proud & enduring Native Americans. I know more about the Western States Native Peoples – than I do about New England Native peoples but I have heard of this Day of Mourning from several Native American friends. I was shocked, angered & saddened to learn that the OLD story of Thanksgiving is not true. How can anyone enjoy that Day when we nt’s a fairy tale?

    That Day can never be made right but we could all join together & proclaim a NEW THANKSGIVING! A THANKS-GIVING for having admitted the truth, give our sincere apologies for the mortal hurts done & for all the blessings this country has experienced & still experiences despite the very grievous wrongs that have taken place. Maybe with a pledge to always strive to do better – always progress in our relationships with our own people & with the people of the world.

    I have lived in N.E. most of my life. I am from New England but still do not have all of it’s very important History. That is something I will correct & from there travel into all places humans have lived & are presently living. For me, this will be easy – I love the study of History. I just have to make sure THE HISTORY is accurate.

    Everyone in my fairly recent Family Tree are immigrants from Europe & only by a few generations. Mostly Irish fleeing untold misery foisted upon my ancestors by the English & my German grandmother came here w/her parents & siblings, for a better life. She was 13 when she landed on these beautiful shores. Consequently, my “bias” has always been with the peoples who have been injured or treated unjustly..

    My Irish American mother told me of many incidents that the Irish had to endure when they first landed in America. I couldn’t believe it but the information was/IS true. After reading about that subject – I went on to read about the horrors of slavery (I started young & on my own). Slavery being a terrible stain on our nation’s narrative. I had always been fascinated by our country’s Native Peoples & I had never heard them to have been been enslaved – so it took a while for me to learn how terrible their fate had been at the hands of the Europeans. And the List goes on. It’s seems every single immigrant or person of non-white , non-anglo-saxon heritage has been treated w/disrespect & worse. Even certain White groups were held in disregard & worse!

    If your ancestors didn’t arrive on the Mayflower – then you were put into an American Caste system automatically. What must hurt & anger ethnic groups is the LYING & twisting of the actual facts in regard to the treatment their ancestors received. It is cruel & totally dishonest to misrepresent special events that are placed into school books & other places as the truth, when quite the opposite is true.

    For Thanksgiving, which I truly think is a BEAUTIFUL ideal, to be used in this ignorant & malicious way must be the biggest travesty of justice of ALL. For in THANKS-GIVING we are involving God & at the same time we are lying about what happened.

    I’d love to see this change. Have the truth told & the healing begin. It is a terrible sore – just as slavery was/IS – on our National Conscience. Not to mention the ill will generated by keeping these LIES alive.

    To be the Home of the FREE & BRAVE & TRUTHFUL – a nation of INTEGRITY – we, as a nation, need to correct these “WRONGS”. Apologizing is the best way to do this. Correcting the History books is a vital step. Doing this does not make us weak – it makes us STRONGER! Even tho most of us didn’t have ancestors who engaged in these practices, we need to stand in for those people – long ago – who did practice genocide & other horrid acts! WE need to be the people who do the apologizing because we are the people HERE now.

    I don’t believe that the UK has ever apologized to the Irish for the genocide they committed upon the Native irish in their own land. That would be for the Irish to determine. Or any group who has terrorized another group – to issue an apology. Just thinking about such an event is almost overwhelming because humans have not treated their fellow humans well all over the Globe. It’s difficult to imagine & maybe naive or close to impossible – but if just some of us started maybe it’d catch on. And how wonderful that would be. Or each major Head of State were to proclaim their sorrow at the actions their country took in harming others.

    Here in the USA, we KNOW, for a fact that there are GREAT hurts/anger simmering & it would take a group of citizens to say: for all the Ages – I’m so sorry for what was done. There was/IS NO EXCUSE. We are all children of God & deserve the utmost respect . Can we imagine such a thing? What changes would we see take place?

    I’ll say it & I mean every word: Please accept my heartfelt apologizes from the members of my racial group who so terribly hurt &, in many cases, mortally wounded loved ones of your racial/social/ethnic group – , deprived them or you of their/your God given Rights or was disrespectful of your humanity, manner in which you expressed your humanity, culture , the taking of your lands, the insensitivity to the spreading of disease, insensitivity to your belief systems and anything else that you know about & I don’t. May you please accept my apologies for my Group & ancestors & myself for sometimes we don’t know what we have done. May we join together in LOVE & HARMONY & accept each other as we strive to become truly each other’s good neighbor.

  8. We’re not giving thanks to the indians and pilgrims at Thanksgiving, you imbeciles. We’re giving thanks to God.
    As for today’s whining crybaby indians blaming every hangnail and hangover on whitey… get over it. Those who leave the mental reservation do fabulously well, those who wallow in perceived racism will be stuck.

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