Learn, Reflect, and Honor: National Day of Mourning - Handel Behavioral Health
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Learn, Reflect, and Honor: National Day of Mourning

November 22, 2023

Amy Mauro

“The National Day of Mourning is a day to illuminate the real and tragic history behind Thanksgiving, and give direct attention to why historical injustices continue to affect marginalized communities to this day.”

Many people across the country celebrate the fourth Thursday in November by indulging in Thanksgiving Day feasts, watching parades, and relaxing with their loved one’s. 

Many others, Native Americans, Indigenous people, and their supporters, recognize the fourth Thursday in November as a day of mourning.

It’s a day that signifies and symbolizes the events of the 17th century and the years which follow the arrival of the Mayflower: namely the mass genocide, land theft, and poverty that Native Americans and Indigenous people have endured since the arrival of European settlers 400 years ago. 

Since 1970, three hundred and fifty years after the Mayflower Pilgrims began their invasion of the Wampanoag people, the fourth Thursday in November has been recognized as The National Day of Mourning. 

The National Day of Mourning is an opportunity for everyone to honor Native American heritage; to recognize the genocide of their ancestors, and the theft of Native land. 

It’s a day to understand the various disparities within healthcare, education, housing, and children’s services, which affect the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples and their communities. 

It’s a day to illuminate the real and tragic history behind Thanksgiving, and give direct attention to why historical injustices continue to affect marginalized communities to this day.

Lastly, it’s a day to give a rightful voice to Indigenous people who are at the forefront of fighting for racial, social, economic, and climate justice.

The Origins of National Day of Mourning: A Wampanoag Story

The National Day of Mourning was cemented by Frank James, also known as Wamsutta, the leader of the Wampanoag people at the time of the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower. 

In 1970, James had been invited to a Massachusetts Thanksgiving Day feast to mark the 350th anniversary.

He was asked to deliver an appreciative speech. One of the organizers asked to read the speech beforehand, to check its content. 

In his speech, James described how the Pilgrims violated Native American graves, stole food, land, and obliterated the population with disease. 

The organizers of the dinner deemed the speech inappropriate and accusatory, and James was given a revised speech, which he refused to read. 

Instead, James swore that the Wampanoag and other Native peoples would regain their rightful place in society, that their culture, language, nature, and spirit would prevail. 

Supporters followed James to Cole’s Hill, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where he spoke of Native American perspectives on Thanksgiving Day, next to a statue of the previous Wampanoag leader Ousamequin.

The gathering has since become an annual event organized by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE) to commemorate a National Day of Mourning.

National Day of Mourning Today

Today marks the 53rd year of the National Day of Mourning. 

Indigenous people and their supporters will gather at noon in person at Cole’s Hill, a mound overlooking Plymouth Rock. Participants will beat drums, offer prayers, and speakers will discuss a variety of issues related to systematic racism, settler colonialism, sexism, homophobia, and capitalism-driven climate change.

Following the rally, participants will march to Plymouth Rock for a second demonstration.

They will also livestream the event.

How You Can Honor National Day of Mourning

As many of us celebrate Thanksgiving Day enjoying family reunions and long-standing traditions, we can also learn about, recognize, and perhaps implement new traditions into our day. 

All of us can participate in National Day of Mourning by taking time to reflect, remember, and mourn the tragic history of Native Americans and Indigenous people in the United States.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.