No thanks: Na­tive Amer­i­cans to hold 50th gath­er­ing of grief

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Wil­liam J. Kole

PLY­MOUTH, Mass. — Happy Thanks­giv­ing to you in the land your fore­fa­thers stole.

That’s the in-your-feast mes­sage Na­tive Amer­i­cans are pre­par­ing to send as they con­vene their 50th annual Na­tional Day of Mourn­ing in the sea­side town where the Pil­grims set­tled.

United Amer­i­can In­di­ans of New Eng­land has held the solemn re­mem­brance on ev­ery Thanks­giv­ing Day since 1970 to re­call what or­ga­niz­ers de­scribe as “the geno­cide of mil­lions of na­tive peo­ple, the theft of na­tive lands and the re­lent­less as­sault on na­tive cul­ture.”

But Thurs­day’s gath­er­ing will have par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance — and, in­dige­nous peo­ple say, a fresh sense of ur­gency.

Ply­mouth is putting the fi­nal touches on next year’s 400th an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tions of the Pil­grims’ land­ing in 1620. And as the 2020 events ap­proach, de­scen­dants of the Wam­panoag tribe that helped the new­com­ers sur­vive are de­ter­mined to en­sure the world doesn’t for­get the dis­ease, racism and op­pres­sion the Euro­pean set­tlers brought.

“We talk about the his­tory be­cause we must,” said Mah­towin Munro, a coleader of the group.

“The fo­cus is al­ways on the Pil­grims. We’re just go­ing to keep telling the truth,” she said. “More and more non­na­tive peo­ple have been lis­ten­ing to us. They’re try­ing to ad­just their prism.”

As they have on ev­ery Thanks­giv­ing for the past half-cen­tury, par­tic­i­pants will as­sem­ble at noon on Cole’s Hill, a windswept mound over­look­ing Ply­mouth Rock, a me­mo­rial to the colonists’ ar­rival.

Be­neath a gi­ant bronze statue of Mas­sas­oit, the Wam­panoag leader in 1620, Na­tive Amer­i­cans from tribes around New Eng­land will beat drums, of­fer prayers and read speeches be­fore march­ing through Ply­mouth’s his­toric district, joined by dozens of sym­pa­thetic sup­port­ers.

Or­ga­niz­ers say they’ll also call at­ten­tion to the plight of miss­ing and slain in­dige­nous women, as well as gov­ern­ment crack­downs on mi­grants from Latin Amer­ica and the de­ten­tions of chil­dren. Pro­mo­tional posters pro­claim: “We didn’t cross the border — the border crossed us!”

Past gath­er­ings have mourned lives lost to the opi­oid ad­dic­tion cri­sis, shown sol­i­dar­ity with the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and con­demned en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion.

The tra­di­tion was born of Ply­mouth’s last big birth­day bash in 1970 — a 350th an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tion that trig­gered an­gry demon­stra­tions by na­tive peo­ple ex­cluded from a de­cid­edly Pil­grim-fo­cused ob­ser­vance.

Since then, the Na­tional Day of Mourn­ing has be­come a louder, prouder af­fair in the com­mu­nity nick­named “Amer­ica’s Home­town.”

Fran­cis Bre­mer, a Pil­grim scholar and pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­tory at Penn­syl­va­nia’s Millersvil­le Univer­sity, thinks the na­tion is be­com­ing more re­cep­tive “to a side of the story that’s too of­ten been ig­nored.”

“Fifty years ago, for non­na­tive peo­ple, these were un­com­fort­able truths they didn’t want to hear. Now they’re nec­es­sary truths,” he said.

NEAL HAMBERG/AP 1998

Na­tive Amer­i­cans from tribes around New Eng­land will gather near the bronze statue of Mas­sas­oit be­fore march­ing through Ply­mouth’s his­toric district on Thurs­day.

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