Every year on Thanksgiving, Native Americans instead mark a National Day of Mourning. On this year’s Thanksgiving (26 Nov), it will be the 50th National Day of Mourning.
It is an event in sharp contrast to Thanksgiving. Instead of celebrating, it marks the suffering of the Native American people since the arrival of the Mayflower in America in 1620. This history began in 1970 when Wamsutta, also known as Frank James, the then leader of the Wampanoag, was invited to an event for the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower’s sailing.
The Wampanoag were the people who first encountered the passengers of the Mayflower, with whom they formed an alliance – from where the traditional story of Thanksgiving stems. But in the years that followed, the Wampanoag were driven from their lands, killed or enslaved.
When Frank James refused to read the organisers’ revised text of his own words, he was ‘uninvited’ from the programme. Instead, James marched to Cole’s Hill, where supporters heard him give his original speech next to the statue of former Wampanoag leader Ousamequin.
Half a century on, Native Americans still gather on Cole’s Hill on Thanksgiving Day – not to mark the Mayflower’s arrival but to commemorate a National Day of Mourning.