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News :: Human Rights : Race
Pilgrims, America's early terrorists
27 Nov 2004
In Jabella Iraq yesterday, American and British soldiers fought street-to-street, raiding homes, taking prisoners, and killing Iraqis in a new military offensive dubbed Operation Plymouth Rock.

In Plymouth, at the rock itself, a crowd of close to four hundred Americans gathered beneath gray skies and a light sprinkling rain to commemorate the 35th National Day of Mourning, a tradition that aims to explode the myths that surround Thanksgiving. This year Iraq was held up as the latest example of European American’s continuing manifest destiny.
Occasionally pausing to wipe a drop of rain from his handwritten speech, Tall Oak, an eloquent member of the Wampanoag, Mashantucket Pequot and Narragansett Nations, spoke to the crowd through a portable speaker, with the United States flag draped around his shoulders.

“The hierarchy of hippocracy which elevated the Puritans and the Pilgrims, America’s first terrorists, to the level of some sort of state with power, is the same vein that some Euro-Americans use to be so patriotic and venerate to a ridiculous level the flag which drips with the blood of native people whose freedom was being denied just as their own was being proclaimed.”

“For the native Americans who know their history the flag is the ultimate symbol of true terrorism.”

Native Americans are caught on both sides of the current war, and they have a long tradition of participating as combatants in American conflicts.

“All my mother’s uncles were killed in the Spanish American war,” said Chief Kenny Black Elk of the Blackfoot tribe. “They were given the promise that they would become citizens. But none of them came back… They lied to us to get them to fight in that war then and America lies to [our kids] today to get them to fight in Bush’s war”

Organizer Wampanum James’ son was a member of the 142nd Maintenance Company in Iraq, where he saw the horrors of the war first hand. According to James, most young Native Americans who join up do so for financial reasons.

“The only jobs that are really available are minimum wage and you’re lucky if you can get one of those. So for many people it is nothing more than the economic reality. College educations are costing thousands and thousands of dollars and the government says be all you can be, join the army, we’ll pay for your college. A lot of kids have to buy into that.”

The rally began at the top of Cole’s hill under the statue of Massosoit, the Wampanoag chief who first signed a peace treaty with the colonists in 1621. As is the tradition, a letter from political prisoner Leonard Peltier was read aloud.

“It’s hard to believe another year has gone by.” It began. “If I close my eyes I can see the golden oak leaves of the fall. But all I can see here is the concrete walls and steel doors of the Leavenworth Prison.” The letter touched on the themes of the American holocaust and the generosity built into the Native American tradition. In the traditional Potlatch, outlawed by the U.S. government, Natives would celebrate the day of their birth by giving away all or most of their possessions. Peltier ended the communiqué by expressing the hope that he could be “collecting oak leaves” amongst the crowd at the 36th annual day of mourning.

From the top of the hill, the march proceeded past the touristy shops of Main Street, where aggressive police and peaceful protestors clashed in 1997. As if to remind marchers of past hostilities an old woman hung out of a second story window and yelled to the crowd:

“That was 200 years ago! Let it go!”

In response, someone yelled back, “The occupation never ends!”

From there, the procession wound around to Plymouth Rock for a few speeches, and then up to the church where a commemorative plaque (one of many concessions won from the city as a result of the 1997 riot) marked the spot that once held Metacom’s head. Metacom, son of Massosoit and chief of the Wampanoags, united New England tribes against the colonist’s steady advance on Native lands in what came to be called King Philip’s war (as he was known to the English). One year after the war began, in 1676, Metacom was captured, drawn, quartered and beheaded. His wife and children were sold into slavery and his head delivered to the governor in Plymouth on a pike.

After a short presentation at that spot including introductions to members of Mayan and Inca tribes, people slowly filed into the basement of the local Unitarian Church to consume the traditional feast. The hall was very small but warm and crowded with very good-natured people. The elders, disabled, families with children, and pregnant women were all given the opportunity to eat first, and diners were told to sit with someone you don’t know “so that you might meet someone new.”

Over the course of the day James and other speakers had explained that the 1621 date often given as the first thanksgiving feast is false. The chief of the Wampanoag, Massasoit, signed a treaty with the settlers that year and shared harvest, but the term “Thanksgiving” did not some into fashion until 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay colony declared the holiday after the safe return of a party of colonists that had massacred over 700 Pequot Indians near the mouth of the Mystic River. For 100 years the holiday was known in this manner and often used to celebrate subsequent slaughters. Moonanum James cited the famous quote by Malcolm X,

“We did not land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us.”
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