Thanksgiving Is National Day of Mourning for Many Native Americans: 'A Lot of Us Will Come Together'

·2-min read
The National Day of Mourning
The National Day of Mourning

Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Thanksgiving has a starkly different meaning to many Native American people.

The United American Indians of New England are set to host the 52nd annual National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Thursday, a gathering aimed at shedding light on the plight of Indigenous people in contrast to the image many associate with the Thanksgiving holiday.

UAINE co-leader Mahtowin Munro told Today this week, "The myth that most of us grew up with in school is that Pilgrims were seeking religious freedom, landed on Plymouth Rock, and then the Pilgrims and Indians sat down for a harvest meal together, and then the Indians just faded into the background and somehow everyone lived happily ever after."

"In our view, this is a lie to hide the genocide of Indigenous peoples," added Munro.

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"I know that for non-Native people, Thanksgiving can seem like a fun holiday where you get together with family and eat turkey. Sometimes we're asked why we don't give thanks, but Indigenous people give thanks many times a day. Why would we be thankful for the arrival of European invaders?" Munro said.

Brian Moskwetah Weeden, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, told Boston Public Radio this week, "Thursday is a National Day of Mourning for us — the fact that we're not conquered or defeated. A lot of us will come together in the footsteps of our former leaders."

Weeden said their ancestors "thought and navigated this world" by being thankful every day, and because of that "we were willing to share with [European colonizers] and we had good intentions and a good heart."

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"I think it's important for everyone to be thankful for our ancestors who helped the Pilgrims survive, and kind of played an intricate role in the birth of this nation," explained Weeden.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian compiled resources for further education about Thanksgiving and differing perspectives on the holiday.

"Native perspectives are especially important to include when teaching the history of the 'First Thanksgiving.' Giving thanks is a longstanding and central tradition among most Native groups that is still practiced today," the museum's experts write. "The First Thanksgiving is often portrayed as a friendly harvest festival where Pilgrims and generic, nameless 'Indians' came together to eat and give thanks. In reality, the assembly of the Wampanoag Peoples and the English settlers in 1621 had much more to do with political alliances, diplomacy, and a pursuit of peace."

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