The National Day of Mourning, which commemorates the genocide of Native Americans every fourth Thursday of November instead of Thanksgiving, is now in its 50th year.
It began in 1970, when a member and leader of the tribe that had originally met the pilgrims from the Mayflower landing wanted to give a speech at a yearly dinner in Plymouth, Mass., that commemorated the ship’s arrival.
“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,” reads one line from the speech that Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal leader Wamsutta Frank James wanted to give 50 years ago.
But he was stopped from speaking the truth about what really happened. The National Day of Mourning was born from James’ refusal to change his speech.
Instead of a traditional Thanksgiving, both Native Americans and nonnative people come together on Cole’s Hill, overlooking Plymouth Rock. This year will be no different.
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On Cole’s Hill, there is a plaque that reads, in part: “Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their cultures. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today.”
Even in modern times, Native Americans face higher rates of unemployment, violence and food scarcity. Native people also face the highest rate of suicide and the second-highest rate of opioid overdoses of any demographic groups in the entire country.
“Thanksgiving is the day which we call the National Day of Mourning because we are still not getting our just dues as those original people that helped form this country, that had relationships to help those first settlers establish and create this great country,” Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Wampanoag tribe, told CNN. “And where are we today as Wampanoag people? We’re still fighting for our rights.”
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Learn about Native American Heritage Month with our Meeting in a Box.