Day of Mourning: We Are Not Vanishing. We Are Not Conquered. We Are As Strong As Ever.

:to feel or show deep sorrow, regret or sadness for the loss or disappearance of something or someone.

Native Americans have been mourning the loss of their people, their lands, their culture and their resources for more than 500 years. Please note that when I refer to Native Americans, Indigenous, or Aboriginal folx, I use these terms to refer to people who are native to their land; the first people of America and, as DJCSpeaks points out in her post, “Thoughts on Native American and Black Solidarity,” I will try my best to “use specific tribe names when we discuss our brothers and sisters as much as possible.” Now, you probably didn’t know that, according to the National Congress of American Indians, “There are 562 federally recognized Indian tribes, bands, nations, pueblos, rancherias, communities and Native villages in the United States. Approximately 229 of these are located in Alaska; the rest are located in 33 other states. Tribes are ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse” so lumping them all together under one name is simply, a very White person thing to do, but stay with me.


Thanksgiving is quickly approaching. Although, in years past, my family and I have indulged in our own Dominicanized version of a Thanksgiving feast decked with rice, turkey, pernil, pastelitos, and lots of coquito yumminess, the more I learn about the true history behind this made up holiday and the constant suffering that Indigenous peoples have been and continue to be subjected to, the more conflicted I am about celebrating it. On the one hand, I want to enjoy this day with family and friends over a nice meal and express gratitude for life’s blessings, while on the other hand, I want to protest it completely in solidarity with my Native American brothers and sisters.

In exploring the history behind the first meal allegedly shared between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims as well as how Thanksgiving Day came to be a national holiday, I learned about the Day of Mourning.

SB: Abram Guerra gave us the full run down yesterday in his piece Holidays and other things to question, but just roll with me on this one.

download.jpgA Day of Mourning is an annual tradition that has been held since 1970 on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts – about an hour drive away from where I grew up and yet I had never heard of this until recently. This day developed out of a speech and protest organized by Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, who was an Aquinnah Wampanoag elder and Native American activist until his death on February 20, 2001. Wamsutta James was asked to speak at a state dinner marking the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. However, Wamsutta was not allowed to give his speech because it discussed the colonization and theft of Wampanoag land – something White folx were NOT about to let ruin their fancy dinner in celebration of their Pilgrim ancestors and the “friendly” feast they once shared with the Wampanoag people (cue eye roll). Since he refused to deliver a whitewashed speech written by a PR person, Wamsutta and other Native Americans decided to protest the silencing of their people by gathering at Coles Hill, Plymouth Rock to declare a “National Day of Mourning for Native Americans.” This is where he first delivered what has come to be known as “The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James.” 


On Thursday, while we celebrate Thanksgiving, Native Americans and supporters will gather in protest to mourn their ancestors, the genocide of their peoples and the theft of their lands. According to United American Indians of New England website, “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.” This year, the 48th National Day of Mourning will be held on November 23rd at noon on Coles Hill Plymouth, MA

Now, as an educator and culturally responsive curriculum writer, I’ve been mulling over what I could do to teach about the history of Thanksgiving in a culturally responsible way. So, I decided that instead of reinforcing false and inaccurate narratives about Thanksgiving, I would create a resource to shift the conversation away from this holiday and focus on gratitude instead. This way, instead of reinforcing false, inaccurate and oversimplified narratives about Native peoples and the Pilgrims, educators and families could focus on gratitude – a character trait we want our kids to embody everyday, not just during a holiday or over the span of a month. You can learn more about my thought process in creating this gratitude resource here.

However, this isn’t enough and maybe all of the resources in the world, no matter how accurate and on point will ever be enough. But I had to do something because I wouldn’t be The Radical Maestra if I didn’t. I’m currently working on a lesson plan on a Day of Mourning that will include historical context on the protest as well as activities that will have students analyzing the tale of two Thanksgivings, debating one another on multiple perspectives, as well as taking tangible action steps in support of this movement through group projects. Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to find out when the resource will be published. I guarantee you it will be positively lit!


As for me, I will be gathering with my family on November 23rd, but I will be taking that opportunity to sit down with my nieces and nephews to read books like, “The People Shall Continueby Simon Ortiz, discuss and clarify their misconceptions about the First Thanksgiving, talk about ways we could support Native Americans today as well as discuss the things we are grateful for. Because the future generation will #staywoke by any means necessary even if it has to be done at the dinner table over some bomb ass pernil.  

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