In honor of the “National Day of Mourning” for Native Americans: Supressed speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag (1970)

In our search today for materials for articles about the realities of “Thanksgiving Day” 2013, we came across a number of interesting documents and websites.  Perhaps the most compelling was the website of the United American Indians of New England, or UAINE.

This organization has been holding commemorations of the “first Thanksgiving” in the form of a “National Day of Mourning” since 1970.  In that year, according to UAINE, “Wamsutta, an Aquinnah Wampanoag man, had been asked to speak at a fancy Commonwealth of Massachusetts banquet celebrating the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. He agreed. The organizers of the dinner, using as a pretext the need to prepare a press release, asked for a copy of the speech he planned to deliver. He agreed. Within days Wamsutta was told by a representative of the Department of Commerce and Development that he would not be allowed to give the speech. The reason given was due to the fact that, ‘…the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place.’ What they were really saying was that in this society, the truth is out of place.”

We reproduce the text of the censored speech of Wamsutta here in its entirety, as we found it on the UAINE website, in order to spread the word about the truth of the “first Thanksgiving” – which was a “godsend” for the European settlers and which remains an ongoing curse to the native peoples of the Americas: the beginning of over 350 years of suffering at the hands of the racist European settlers from “civilized” Europe.

Many people mistakenly believe that the population of Native Americans exists only as a remnant population; that is far from the truth.  There are millions of descendants of the original Americans throughout the United States and Canada.  Many workers here in Chicago may be surprised to learn that there is a vibrant Native American community numbering in the tens of thousands living in the Chicago metropolitan area today; in fact, “the greater Chicago area has the third-largest off-reservation population of Native Americans in the country.” [Source:  WBEZ 91.5 FM website,  “Question answered: Do descendants of Chicago’s Native American tribes live in the city today?”]

For more information about the “National Day of Mourning” and its’ sister protest on the West Coast, “Unthanksgiving Day”, visit the website of UAINE here:  www.uaine.org  and on the West Coast, check out the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) website here:  www.iitc.org/…/comunity-events/

IWPCHI

******************

THE SUPPRESSED SPEECH OF

WAMSUTTA (FRANK B.) JAMES, WAMPANOAG

To have been delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1970

ABOUT THE DOCUMENT:
Three hundred fifty years after the Pilgrims began their invasion of the land of the Wampanoag, their “American” descendants planned an anniversary celebration. Still clinging to the white schoolbook myth of friendly relations between their forefathers and the Wampanoag, the anniversary planners thought it would be nice to have an Indian make an appreciative and complimentary speech at their state dinner. Frank James was asked to speak at the celebration. He accepted. The planners, however , asked to see his speech in advance of the occasion, and it turned out that Frank James’ views — based on history rather than mythology — were not what the Pilgrims’ descendants wanted to hear. Frank James refused to deliver a speech written by a public relations person. Frank James did not speak at the anniversary celebration. If he had spoken, this is what he would have said:

I speak to you as a man — a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction (“You must succeed – your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod community!”). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and sisters, have painfully overcome, and to some extent we have earned the respect of our community. We are Indians first – but we are termed “good citizens.” Sometimes we are arrogant but only because society has pressured us to be so.

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you – celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.

Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. 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.  Mourt’s Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians’ winter provisions as they were able to carry.

Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened in the last 300 years? History gives us facts and there were atrocities; there were broken promises – and most of these centered around land ownership. Among ourselves we understood that there were boundaries, but never before had we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned. Only ten years later, when the Puritans came, they treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting the souls of the so-called “savages.” Although the Puritans were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any other “witch.”

And so down through the years there is record after record of Indian lands taken and, in token, reservations set up for him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain. This the Indian could not understand; for to him, land was survival, to farm, to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after incident, where the white man sought to tame the “savage” and convert him to the Christian ways of life. The early Pilgrim settlers led the Indian to believe that if he did not behave, they would dig up the ground and unleash the great epidemic again.

The white man used the Indian’s nautical skills and abilities. They let him be only a seaman — but never a captain. Time and time again, in the white man’s society, we Indians have been termed “low man on the totem pole.”

Has the Wampanoag really disappeared? There is still an aura of mystery. We know there was an epidemic that took many Indian lives – some Wampanoags moved west and joined the Cherokee and Cheyenne. They were forced to move. Some even went north to Canada! Many Wampanoag put aside their Indian heritage and accepted the white man’s way for their own survival. There are some Wampanoag who do not wish it known they are Indian for social or economic reasons.

What happened to those Wampanoags who chose to remain and live among the early settlers? What kind of existence did they live as “civilized” people? True, living was not as complex as life today, but they dealt with the confusion and the change. Honesty, trust, concern, pride, and politics wove themselves in and out of their [the Wampanoags’] daily living. Hence, he was termed crafty, cunning, rapacious, and dirty.

History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood.

The white man in the presence of the Indian is still mystified by his uncanny ability to make him feel uncomfortable. This may be the image the white man has created of the Indian; his “savageness” has boomeranged and isn’t a mystery; it is fear; fear of the Indian’s temperament!

High on a hill, overlooking the famed Plymouth Rock, stands the statue of our great Sachem, Massasoit. Massasoit has stood there many years in silence. We the descendants of this great Sachem have been a silent people. The necessity of making a living in this materialistic society of the white man caused us to be silent. Today, I and many of my people are choosing to face the truth. We ARE Indians!

Although time has drained our culture, and our language is almost extinct, we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of Massachusetts. We may be fragmented, we may be confused. Many years have passed since we have been a people together. Our lands were invaded. We fought as hard to keep our land as you the whites did to take our land away from us. We were conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many cases, and wards of the United States Government, until only recently.

Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the woodland paths and sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam highways and roads. We are uniting We’re standing not in our wigwams but in your concrete tent. We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we’ll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us.

We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep us on our knees. What has happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane America, a more Indian America, where men and nature once again are important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and brotherhood prevail.

You the white man are celebrating an anniversary. We the Wampanoags will help you celebrate in the concept of a beginning. It was the beginning of a new life for the Pilgrims. Now, 350 years later it is a beginning of a new determination for the original American: the American Indian.

There are some factors concerning the Wampanoags and other Indians across this vast nation. We now have 350 years of experience living amongst the white man. We can now speak his language. We can now think as a white man thinks. We can now compete with him for the top jobs. We’re being heard; we are now being listened to. The important point is that along with these necessities of everyday living, we still have the spirit, we still have the unique culture, we still have the will and, most important of all, the determination to remain as Indians. We are determined, and our presence here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning of the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to regain the position in this country that is rightfully ours.

Wamsutta

September 10, 1970

[Source:  UAINE website at http://www.uaine.org/wmsuta.htm%5D

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2 responses to “In honor of the “National Day of Mourning” for Native Americans: Supressed speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag (1970)

  1. This is wonderful and sad all at once. Thank you for posting this. I wish that more people understood the true events surrounding Thanksgiving (A.k.a National massacre celebration day). It’s so true that we would be a better and happier society if modern life was lived similarly to how the natives had lived. Consumerism and media and capitalism have caused so much detriment to us. More than most may know.

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    • Thanks for the kind words, Sara! We salute you for searching for this information in the first place; most people don’t possess that innate curiosity that caused you to look beyond the surface of the Thanksgiving fairy tale to get to the true story behind it.
      We’re certain that your comment about going back to the lifestyle of the indigenous tribes of North America was not meant to be taken literally. We agree that we have much to learn even to this day from the indigenous tribes of the world, whose knowledge of and respect for the natural environment they attained only through many millennia of very difficult trial-and-error experiments in the days before the advent of the scientific method. It is only in the last century that the native peoples’ knowledge of the natural world and the medicinal properties of plants is finally being very profitably evaluated by modern science. But workers in the modern world can not – and should not – dream futilely of going back to living as the indigenous tribes did a century or two ago; their life was (and for those still living in the traditional ways, is even today) an extremely difficult one, as any Boy or Girl Scout or military veteran who has experienced winter camping in canvas pup tents can tell you. Let’s face it: most people today – including many Native Americans! – wouldn’t be able to survive a single North American winter in a teepee, even if they had access to a nearby supermarket. The life of your average Native American hunter-gatherer, even before the arrival of Europeans, was no piece of cake. It was a life of constant struggle against the elements where the diference between life and death was balanced very precariously. No amount of planning by any tribe could protect them from tornadoes, floods, blizzards, extremes of heat and cold or forest and prairie fires. They were completely at the mercy of the natural world. There are still far too many millions living like this in the world today, able to live in the ages-old traditional ways only until they are faced with situations beyond their control, when drought, warfare or diseases tear through their communities, leaving thousands or even millions dead and maimed – at which time, the modern, capitalist world invariable stumbles to the rescue with life-saving food and medicine, which invariably arrives far too late for many. These would almost all be preventable deaths in today’s world – if we lived in a rationally-planned socialist society.

      There are simply too many mouths to feed, and too many people to clothe and shelter in the world today. Here in the modern, capitalist – and socialist – industrialized world we have all become accustomed to living with the conveniences of electricity, supermarkets, inexpensive factory-made clothing and modern homes with heat, sanitary facilities and running water to go back to living in those physically and psychologically challenging – though far less environmentally destructive – ways. This is why we say that we need to go beyond capitalism to a planned socialist economy. By getting rid of the capitalist system – a system based on personal greed – and evolving towards a modern socialist economy where the needs of the many are given top priority – we can for the first time employ the genius of the entire human race to overcome our planet’s pressing environmental crises. Under a socialist economic system that has as its primary goal putting an end to needless human suffering we can immediately put into practice our constantly evolving scientific knowledge of the environmental repercussions of modern life on the planet. When the world is no longer divided into competitive, warring nation-states, we can focus the energies of the entire human race on developing our planet in such a way as to maximize benefits for all with the least possible impact on the environment. We will be taking the indigenous peoples’ love for the planet, and their respect for the environment and putting it on a globally coordinated scientific basis so as not to protect just one little corner of one continent from damage, but to protect the entire planet from harm. We won’t be merely managing the local deer herds, we’ll be deploying asteroid-killing devices to protect Earth from impacts with large objects like the one that nearly destroyed Chelyabinsk, Russia last year! We need to have a rationally-planned global economy that places top emphasis on long-term sustainability; this is ONLY possible via socialism – it can’t be done in a capitalist, greed-based economic system. The Native Americans lived in a state of “primitive communism” where all the material wealth of the tribe was shared among the entire group, and the local resources were utilized at maximum efficiency for the benefit of the entire tribe; no one was left to be homeless or to starve while others gorged themselves. Modern society needs to develop a modern, large-scale form of the indigenous peoples’ communism; not one in slavish imitation of the undemocratic Stalinist, Maoist or North Korean models, but one that is based upon truly democratic socialist principles: a socialist workers republic where everyone can openly participate in the political life at the local, national and global levels. Other, earlier revolutionary movements – in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba – have made just the first, heroic, tentative steps toward this goal; we must recognize the many successes of these revolutions without becoming disheartened by or simply ignoring their failures in many other important areas. The working class of the world must continue to persevere in the direction of building an egalitarian socialist society in the same way that we kept pursuing the dream of air travel without giving up when the first airplanes ever designed and built turned out to have major structural flaws that rendered them unusable – and deadly. The socialist ideal is too noble – and, in fact, too easily attainable! – for us to simply decide to let it slip from our reach after so many hundreds of thousands of years of struggle towards the goal of a world of peace and plenty for everyone. We must DEMAND that our children will live in a better world than the one we grew up in and REFUSE to settle for anything less than that! This is not happening today because so many workers have given up on fighting for a better future and have surrendered to the false notion – spread by the capitalist class through their news media outlets and their bought-and-paid-for politicians – that capitalism is “the best of all possible worlds”. That is so OBVIOUSLY not true!

      We have a lot of work to do, don’t we, Sara? Well, time’s a-wastin’! Those asteroids are out there and it’s just a matter of time before the next big one hits! Join us!

      “Workers of the World, Unite!”

      IWPCHI

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