The crowd was smaller, but still substantial, and the weather was probably the warmest Day of Mourning on record, at around 60 degrees. The program was also shorter, with a woman doing a beautiful welcome ceremony to the four directions, blowing a conch shell each time she pivoted, and just three speakers, all women.
One was Kisha James, granddaughter of the man who started it all, Wamsutta Frank James, a member of the Aquinnah tribe of Gay Head. He was invited by the Massachusetts governor to give a speech in honor of the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims. His speech told it like it was -- atrocities, broken treaties and stolen land by the settlers -- so he wasn't able to deliver that speech at the celebration. Organizers said since the theme was "brotherhood," it would be out of place. So he gave it to a different group on Thanksgiving. That became the first National Day of Mourning.
Kisha James read her grandfather's speech in honor of the day being the 50th anniversary of consecutive commemorations, no matter the weather. I've been there when it's been very cold, very windy, rainy or pleasant like it was this year.
After the speeches everyone marched to significant sites around town, including Plymouth Rock (which is very small). That's usually followed by a big communal dinner, but organizers cancelled that due to Covid.
It was unfortunate that the event was scaled back, not only because this year was the 50th anniversary, but because the indigenous people of the U.S. scored some important victories that would have been wonderful to celebrate together, such as the removal of many Columbus statues and the rising awareness among non-native peoples of the struggles they are confronting. They are three times more likely than whites to die of Covid, and while tribal nations in both North and South Dakota set up checkpoints on highways going through their reservations to try to control the spread, the white settler governments in those two states have been just about the least restrictive of any states, and the virus is rampant there. It’s also very bad on the huge Navajo nation. Poverty plays a big role; many families don’t have running water, making it very hard to follow the key precaution of washing hands often. Click here to read or listen to an interview I did with the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe on this issue.
In an email, Krystal Two Bulls of the NDN Collective writes, “We must not forget that germ warfare has been used against Indigenous Peoples throughout history and it is imperative that our non-native allies consider this history. Take flattening the curve very seriously, and be very cautious and sensitive when traveling through or near Indigenous lands and territories.”
Another focus of indigenous activism is #LANDBACK. (Krystal is the Landback organizer with NDN.) It calls for the return of stolen lands, like the Black Hills in South Dakota, sacred to the Lakota, which was guaranteed to them by a treaty that was violated as soon as gold was discovered there. There is also talk of getting back the lands that are now national parks, from many of which indigenous tribes were ejected when the federal government took possession.
And the oil pipeline fights continue. If delay means defeat, there’s a good chance the Keystone XL pipeline will never get built, since it ran into more judicial roadblocks this year. But another pipeline – Line 3 – that would also bring filthy tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the US across 300 miles of Minnesota just received several important permits from state regulators and the company, Enbridge, is ready to start construction. Opposition has been widespread and intense, and one of the leaders is Winona La Duke, founder of Honor the Earth, who’s fighting to keep Line 3 from crossing her territory, the Ojibwe White Earth reservation. Click here to read or listen to my interview with her.