National Day of Mourning (United States protest)

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The National Day of Mourning is an annual protest organized since 1970 by Native Americans of New England on the fourth Thursday of November, the same day as Thanksgiving in the United States. It coincides with an unrelated similar protest, Unthanksgiving Day, held on the West Coast.

The organizers consider the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day as a reminder of the democide and continued suffering of the Native American peoples. Participants in the National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. They want to educate Americans about history. The event was organized in a period of Native American activism and general cultural protests. The protest is organized by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE). Since it was first organized, social changes have resulted in major revisions to the portrayal of United States history,[citation needed] the government's and settlers' relations with Native American peoples,[citation needed] and renewed appreciation for Native American culture.[citation needed]


Historic context[edit]

European feasts celebrating harvest is a practice that predates their arrival in North America. The first documented thanksgiving services in the present day United States of America was conducted by Spanish and French arrivals in the 16th century.[1][2][3] English celebrations were held as early as 1607, in what would become the Commonwealth of Virginia, followed by Jamestown, Virginia in 1610.[4][5] The event that Americans commonly call the "First Thanksgiving" was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in October 1621.[6] This feast lasted three days, and—as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow[7]—it was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims.[8]

Governor John Winthrop proclaimed an official "Day of Thanksgiving" in 1637 to celebrate the return of men from the Pequot War in Mystic, Connecticut,[9] in which colonists allied with Mohegan and Narragansett tribes to defeat the Pequot. More than 700 Pequot women, children, and men died in the war, which their descendants call a massacre. In 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln authorized that the fourth Thursday of November be set aside to give thanks and praise for the nation's blessings. Thanksgiving became part of American culture.

Since 1921, the 300th year after the first Thanksgiving, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stages an annual reenactment of Thanksgiving. People gather at a church on the site of the Pilgrims' original meeting house, in 17th century costume. After prayers and a sermon, they march to Plymouth Rock. This annual event had become a tourist attraction.

National myth[edit]

During the late 19th and early 20th-century, the United States of America saw a wave of immigration that resulted in the arrival of millions of southern and eastern Europeans. Educators and civic groups believed that the new arrivals needed to be assimilated into the American culture. They believed that the "First Thanksgiving" could be used as an essential element of this assimilation process, providing immigrants with a shared cultural story and tradition with non-immigrants: new arrivals (the "Pilgrims") having a mutually beneficial relationship with the Native Americans and sharing a meal of turkey.

National Day of Mourning[edit]

United American Indians of New England[edit]

The United American Indians of New England (UAINE) argue that the Native American and colonial experience is misrepresented. They argue that the Pilgrims, rather than being portrayed as people fleeing persecution and landing in empty land and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with the local inhabitants, arrived in North America and claimed tribal land for their own. In doing so, as part of a commercial venture, introduced sexism, racism, anti-homosexual bigotry, jails, and the class system.[10]

The UAINE also questions why the "First Thanksgiving" is not associated with Virginia, the first colony to hold such a celebration. They argue the reason that national myth of Thanksgiving cannot be built around the first celebrations is that in doing would illustrate the terrible circumstances that prevailed in the colony: settlers turning to cannibalism to survive. The UAINE argues that the only true element of the Thanksgiving story is that the pilgrims would not have survived their first years in New England without the aid of the Wampanoag people or their already existing crops.[11]

Neither the UAINE or the National Day of Mourning are sponsored by Wampanoag tribal leadership, although the tribe does not discourage members from participating. In his November 2014 message to the tribe, Mashpee Wampanoag Chief Qaqeemasq wrote "Historically, Thanksgiving represents our first encounter with the eventual erosion of our sovereignty and there is nothing wrong with mourning that loss. In fact, as long as we don't wallow in regret and resentment, it's healthy to mourn. It is a necessary part of the healing process."[12]

Initial protest[edit]

For the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival in North America (landing on Wampanoag land), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts planned to celebrate friendly relations between English ancestors and the Wampanoag. Wampanoag leader Wamsutta, also known as Frank James, was invited to make a speech at the celebration.[13] When his speech was reviewed by the anniversary planners,[14] they decided it would not be appropriate. The reason given: "...the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place."[15]

Wamsutta based his speech on a Pilgrim's account of the first year in North America: a recollection of opening of graves, taking existing supplies of corn and bean, and selling Wampanoag as slaves for 220 shillings each.[citation needed] After receiving a revised speech, written by a public relations person, Wamsutta decided he would not attend the celebration. To protest the attempted silencing of his position detailing the uncomfortable truth of the First Thanksgiving, he and his supporters went to neighboring Cole's Hill. Near the statue of Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag when the Pilgrims landed, and overlooking Plymouth Harbour and the Mayflower replica, Wamsutta gave his original speech. This was the first National Day of Mourning.[16]

Later protests[edit]

As a result, the UAINE organized an annual National Day of Mourning to be held in the same location. The objective being an effort to educate people about the history of the Wampanoag people,[17] raise awareness about the continued misrepresentation of Native American people and the colonial experience, and the belief that people need to be educated about what actually happened rather than the national myth. The protest has also been used as a platform to address ongoing and contemporary struggles, as well as historical ones.

Attracting several hundred protestors each year, the National Day of Morning generally begins at noon and includes a march through the historic district of Plymouth. This is followed by speeches, although speakers are by invitation only. The protest concludes with a social time: Guests are asked to bring non-alcoholic beverages, desserts, fresh fruits and vegetables, or pre-cooked items. The protest is all inclusive and open to anyone, and over the years has attracted other minority activists.

In 1996, the 'Latinos for Social Change' marched to the Plymouth Commons at the same time the Mayflower Society had their Pilgrim Progress parade, to show support for the UAINE. Police re-routed the Pilgrim parade to avoid conflict. In 1997, the Pilgrim Progress parade was held earlier and went undisturbed. Those who gathered to commemorate the 28th National Day of Mourning, in 1997, were met by police and state troopers. Some accounts allege that pepper spray was used on children and the elderly.[citation needed] Twenty-five people were arrested on charges ranging from battery of a police officer to assembling without a permit. In an effort to avoid another conflict, the state reached a settlement with UAINE in October 1998. The settlement stated that the UAINE is allowed to march without a permit, as long as advanced notice is provided to Plymouth.

The 35th National Day of Mourning was held on 25 November 2004, and was dedicated to Leonard Peltier; a Native American activist convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for first degree murder in the shooting of two FBI agents. Many American Indians and supporters gathered again at the top of Coles Hill. They honored their Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today.

Will the protest ever end?[edit]

According to a speech by Moonanum James, Co-Leader of UAINE, at the 29th National Day of Mourning, November 26, 1998:[18]

Some ask us: Will you ever stop protesting? Some day we will stop protesting: We will stop protesting when the merchants of Plymouth are no longer making millions of dollars off the blood of our slaughtered ancestors. We will stop protesting when we can act as sovereign nations on our own land without the interference of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and what Sitting Bull called the "favorite ration chiefs". When corporations stop polluting our mother, the earth. When racism has been eradicated. When the oppression of Two-Spirited people is a thing of the past. We will stop protesting when homeless people have homes and no child goes to bed hungry. When police brutality no longer exists in communities of color. We will stop protesting when Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Puerto Rican independentistas and all the political prisoners are free. Until then, the struggle will continue.

National Day of Mourning Plaque[edit]

National Day of Mourning Plaque.jpg

The town of Plymouth, Massachusetts has erected a plaque for National Day of Mourning. It is a rectangular metal plaque with beveled edges set in stone 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 U.S. 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 cultures. 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.

Erected by the Town of Plymouth on behalf of the United American Indians of New England


  1. ^ "Thanksgiving". The Teachers Page. Library of Congress. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  2. ^ "Catholics Did It First".
  3. ^ Davis, Kenneth C. (November 25, 2008). "A French Connection". The New York Times. Retrieved September 5, 2011.
  4. ^ Morill, Ann "Thanksgiving and Other Harvest Festivals" Infobase Publishing, ISBN 1-60413-096-2 p.33
  5. ^ "Thanksgiving". The Teachers Page. Library of Congress. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  6. ^ Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation,1789–1897, pp. 85–92.
  7. ^ Winslow, Edward (1622), Mourt's Relation (PDF), p. 133, retrieved November 20, 2013, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted
  8. ^ "Primary Sources for 'The First Thanksgiving' at Plymouth" (PDF). Pilgrim Hall Museum. Retrieved November 26, 2009. The 53 Pilgrims at the First Thanksgiving
  9. ^ Salam, Maya (21 November 2017). "Most Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong". New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  10. ^ "United American Indians of New England". Retrieved 2009-04-09.
  11. ^ "First 'National Day of Mourning' Held in Plymouth". Mass Moments. 2005-01-01. Retrieved 2009-04-09.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-24. Retrieved 2014-11-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Pilgrim Hall Museum Archived 2003-07-02 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ The suppressed speech of Wamsutta. To have been delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1970. (
  15. ^ Source: UAINE
  16. ^ Kurtiş, Tuğçe; Adams, Glenn; Yellow Bird, Michael (2010). "Generosity or genocide? Identity implications of silence in American Thanksgiving commemorations". Memory. 18 (2): 208–224. doi:10.1080/09658210903176478. ISSN 0965-8211.
  17. ^ "First 'National Day of Mourning' Held in Plymouth". Mass Moments. 2005-01-01. Retrieved 2009-04-09.
  18. ^ "Speech by Moonanum James, Co-Leader of United American Indians of New England at the 29th National Day of Mourning, November 26, 1998". Archived from the original on June 24, 2007. Retrieved October 30, 2007.


  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (1997).
  • "Death by Disease" by Ann F. Ramenofsky in "Archaeology" (March/April 1992).
  • Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (2006).

External links[edit]