One groups remembers injustices against Native Americans


BOSTON (CNN) – For most Americans, Thanksgiving is a day to counts blessings, spend time with family.

But for many Native Americans, the day has a different connotation.

Most of American history depicts a ‘hospitable’ first thanksgiving: 1621 – grateful pilgrims in the ‘new world’ offer a warm invitation to Massasoit Ousamequin and members of his Wampanoag tribe.

But Cedric Cromwell, the chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoags, calls that depiction a myth.

“We sent 90 men over to the first settlers to see why they were shooting guns and practicing arms to say, ‘hey, what are you preparing for?’ and they were preparing for some kind of war to take our people down,” Cromwell said. “And so we sat down with them to have a discussion, and there led a feast.”

Some elders say the so-called first Thanksgiving is not worth celebrating.

“It’s the one day out of the year when all of America bows their heads and gives thanks for all that was taken from us,” Tall Oak said.

83-year-old Tall Oak’s Rhode Island home is an archive of Native American history.

Amongst the books, pictures, relics… is a copy of a 1970 speech, written by his late friend, Wamsutta.

He had been invited to a celebration of the arrival of the Mayflower.

“When he had to give the speech… they said well we can’t allow you to read that cause 90-percent of the people would walk out,” Oak said.

“We, the wampanoag,” Wamsutta wrote. “Welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.”

“He said he wasn’t going to change it,” Oak said. “And so he withdrew from that.”

Wamsutta, Oak and other activists of the American Indian movement created their own event for the following Thanksgiving day.

“We decided that we would declare it a national day of mourning for Native people,” Oak said.

And every fourth Thursday of November since, Native Americans have gathered at the statue of Massasoit on Cole’s Hill, in Plymouth to tell the truth that Wamsutta could not.

Mahtowin Munro is the co-leader of the national day or mourning, now in its 50th year.

“Many more non-Native people are interested in listening to contemporary indigenous voices and the messages that we bring that are important to everyone,” she said.

“We’re still fighting with our very own trustee who we had treaties with, that we agreed to have a relationship back in the 1700s,” Cromwell said. “And we’re still fighting that fight today to have our lands.”

This Thanksgiving, Tall Oak, the only surviving co-creator of the National Day of Mourning hopes that you think less about Natives contribution to a meal nearly 400 years ago.

And more about, as the plaque on the monument reads… the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their land and the relentless assault on their culture.

“It was a terrible way to show your gratitude after you’ve been given everything to make it possible for you to survive,” Oak said.

In the fight over land, the Trump administration’s bureau of Indian affairs reversed an Obama-era recognition of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal land trust.

On the eve of a house vote to reaffirm the recognition, President Trump tweeted that Republicans should vote against that bill because it was backed by – in his words – “Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren.”

The bill passed with broad bipartisan support.

It has not yet been taken up by the senate.

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