November: Family Day, and a National Day of Mourning

In 1970, a group of Indigenous peoples in the northeastern region of the U.S. protested the day. Ever since, they and their supporters have been observing it as a National Day of Mourning. Participants gather at noon to honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native people today. The ceremony held on Cole’s Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts is in remembrance of their spiritual connections as well as in protest of the racism and oppression of Indigenous peoples.

Participants in 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.


The truth is a sharp contrast to the American mythology of Thanksgiving

The pilgrims are glorified and mythologized because the circumstances of the first English-speaking colony in Jamestown were frankly too ugly (for example, they turned to cannibalism to survive) to hold up as an effective national myth. The pilgrims did not find an empty land any more than Columbus “discovered” anything. Every inch of this land is Indian land. The pilgrims (who did not even call themselves pilgrims) did not come here seeking religious freedom; they already had that in Holland. They came here as part of a commercial venture. They introduced sexism, racism, anti-lesbian and gay bigotry, jails, and the class system to these shores. One of the very first things they did when they arrived on Cape Cod — before they even made it to Plymouth — was to rob Wampanoag graves at Corn Hill and steal as much of the Indians’ winter provisions of corn and beans as they were able to carry. They were no better than any other group of Europeans when it came to their treatment of the Indigenous peoples here. And no, they did not even land at that sacred shrine called Plymouth Rock, a monument to racism and oppression which we are proud to say we buried in 1995.

The first official “Day of Thanksgiving” was proclaimed in 1637 by Governor Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of men from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who had gone to Mystic, Connecticut to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children, and men.

About the only true thing in the whole mythology is that these pitiful European strangers would not have survived their first several years in “New England” were it not for the aid of Wampanoag people. What Native people got in return for this help was genocide, theft of our lands, and never-ending repression. We are treated either as quaint relics from the past, or are, to most people, virtually invisible.

When we dare to stand up for our rights, we are considered unreasonable. When we speak the truth about the history of the European invasion, we are often told to “go back where we came from.” Our roots are right here. They do not extend across any ocean.

National Day of Mourning began in 1970 when a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta Frank James, was asked to speak at a state dinner celebrating the 350th anniversary of the pilgrim landing. He refused to speak false words in praise of the white man for bringing civilization to us poor heathens. Native people from throughout the Americas came to Plymouth, where they mourned their forebears who had been sold into slavery, burned alive, massacred, cheated, and mistreated since the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620.

But the commemoration of National Day of Mourning goes far beyond the circumstances of 1970.

Can we give thanks as we remember Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier, who was framed up by the FBI and has been falsely imprisoned since 1976? Despite mountains of evidence exonerating Peltier and the proven misconduct of federal prosecutors and the FBI, Peltier has been denied a new trial. Bill Clinton apparently does not feel that particular pain and has refused to grant clemency to this innocent man.

To Native people, the case of Peltier is one more ordeal in a litany of wrongdoings committed by the U.S. government against us. While the media in New England present images of the “Pequot miracle” in Connecticut, the vast majority of Native people continue to live in the most abysmal poverty.

Can we give thanks for the fact that, on many reservations, unemployment rates surpass fifty percent? Our life expectancies are much lower, our infant mortality and teen suicide rates much higher, than those of white Americans. Racist stereotypes of Native people, such as those perpetuated by the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, and countless local and national sports teams, persist. Every single one of the more than 350 treaties that Native nations signed has been broken by the U.S. government. The bipartisan budget cuts have severely reduced educational opportunities for Native youth and the development of new housing on reservations, and have caused cause deadly cutbacks in health-care and other necessary services.

Are we to give thanks for being treated as unwelcome in our own country?

Or perhaps we are expected to give thanks for the war that is being waged by the Mexican government against Indigenous peoples there, with the military aid of the U.S. in the form of helicopters and other equipment? When the descendants of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca flee to the U.S., the descendants of the wash-ashore pilgrims term them ‘illegal aliens” and hunt them down.

We object to the “Pilgrim Progress” parade and to what goes on in Plymouth because they are making millions of tourist dollars every year from the false pilgrim mythology. That money is being made off the backs of our slaughtered indigenous ancestors.

Increasing numbers of people are seeking alternatives to such holidays as Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. They are coming to the conclusion that, if we are ever to achieve some sense of community, we must first face the truth about the history of this country and the toll that history has taken on the lives of millions of Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian, and poor and working class white people.

The myth of Thanksgiving, served up with dollops of European superiority and manifest destiny, just does not work for many people in this country. As Malcolm X once said about the African-American experience in America, “We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.” Exactly.

51st Annual National Day of Mourning
November 26, 2020
12:00 Noon
Coles Hill, Plymouth, MA

National Day of Mourning march with people holding banners



An annual tradition since 1970, Day of Mourning is a solemn, spiritual and highly political day. Many of us fast from sundown the day before through the afternoon of that day (and have a social after Day of Mourning so that participants in DOM can break their fasts). We are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands. NDOM is a day when we mourn, but we also feel our strength in action. Over the years, participants in Day of Mourning have buried Plymouth Rock a number of times, boarded the Mayflower replica, and placed ku klux klan sheets on the statue of William Bradford, etc. Although allies are welcome to support, it is a day when only Indigenous people speak about our history and the struggles that are taking place throughout the Americas. Speakers are by invitation only.


Over time, educators and parents across racial groups have approached the decolonizing process by introducing nontraditional historical texts to their students and writing letters to K-12 schools requesting such texts be taught in place of the traditional myth. They cite the harm done to young people by lying to them.

One educator suggested a number of resources, including these texts and letters.

Other examples include more individual, and maybe less political or educational approaches.

Many of us celebrate what I learned later in life to call Family Day.

In some households, Pilgrims and “Indians” are never mentioned. Traditional American history is never mentioned.

The day is about spending time with family, and of course the culinary delights prepared by the matriarchs of our families.

My family would stand in a circle holding hands. We’d each share what we’re thankful for. My paternal grandmother would then pray and bless the food.

For some it’s about giving thanks by giving back to those who don’t have families to spend time with, or a meal to eat. They go to church, visit hospitals, nursing homes, shelters, food pantries, or folks on the streets in their communities. Some sponsor dinners for families who are experiencing financial challenges.

Let’s acknowledge the movement of decolonization and reeducation happening in our country.

A YES! reader shared that her family gave up their Thanksgiving turkey dinner to donate the money they would spend on food items to their local food bank.

“On [this] holiday we sit down with a simple bowl of rice (which two-thirds of the world population would have been happy to have) and we made lists of all the things and people we’re thankful to have and to know.”

Ultimately, within our families and communities and schools, we should stop, reinterpret, and repurpose traditions that are harmful, either in theory or practice.

I learned from my elders that when you know better, you should do better.

As we enter into this holiday, let’s acknowledge the movement of decolonization and re-education happening in our country.

We can observe and celebrate with our families in ways that honor those who the day originally dishonored, and those who continue to struggle under oppression.

Zenobia Williams, YES Magazine, Nov 2020


Excerpt from Leonard Peltier, Nov 2020

I do want to express my appreciation for our ancestors before us, who fought so hard that we would live today. I want to express my feelings of remembrance for the ones who were overpowered by the weapons of war coming from Europe and the pandemics they faced. Though we have been attacked by the invaders from Europe, over and over in every way possible, and everything that has been done to destroy us, our culture, and traditions, we still survived until today because we are an expression of the Creator’s Will and an expression of the Creator’s Truth. We are a manifestation of that truth, that all mankind should live within the boundaries of those laws.

SHOW LESSThere is nothing that came from Europe that has made this portion of the Earth a better place to live, but like all nature, we have survived, and nature continues to survive, though mankind is on the edge of destroying itself. The truths that our people spoke of, the need to live in harmony with each other, the Creator, the Mother Earth, and respect one another’s’ approach to spirituality, when expressed by non-Indians becomes a sensation around the world. We must continue to speak our truth, to live our truth, and to support one another, for there lies our survival. The most powerful weapons that we can obtain is knowledge of truth and love for one another, and the practice of that truth and love.

We must unite and work together every chance we can and embrace all others who are of like-mind and willing to work to correct this worldwide pandemic of greed and selfishness that has infected the whole earth and mankind.

On this Day of Mourning, let us again remember our relatives before us, who fought every challenge imaginable that we might survive, and in our prayers say “Thanks for not giving up. Thanks for giving your lives that we might live.” And to all of you out there, I want to say thanks for not giving up on me and my quest for freedom. May the Creator bless you in every way. You brother always, in all ways.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse and Resistance,
Mitakuye Oyasin,
Leonard Peltier


Word Docs:

In addition to National Day of Mourning and supporting many other important struggles, UAINE works with other organizations to do lots more!Indigenous Peoples Day MA

UAINE is providing leadership in the work of, which has been providing support and strategy for Indigenous Peoples Day campaigns in Massachusetts. Successful campaigns have included Cambridge, Brookline, and more, and we also have a bill before the state legislature. See the website for more information!Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda

UAINE is also a key component of the Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda, which consolidates the efforts of those working on five important bills involving Indigenous issues that are currently before the MA legislature to make a statewide Indigenous Peoples Day, Prohibit the use of Native sports team names and Mascots, Redesign the State Flag & Seal, Support Native Education, and Protect Native Heritage. To learn more about this important work and how you can help to support it, go to Columbus Statue

The Christopher Columbus statue in Boston’s ‘Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park’ has stood for decades as a representation of white supremacy and the celebration of Indigenous genocide caused by Columbus and his men. Like similar statues around the country and Confederate monuments, this Columbus statue has been a focus of protest repeatedly, including having its head knocked off on 6/10/2020. The City of Boston has temporarily removed the headless statue, but will not commit to removing it permanently.