While many Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by gathering with friends and family to eat robust meals, Native Americans around the country and in Tampa Bay will fast and mourn.
The Florida Indigenous Alliance (FIA) and its supporters will acknowledge the day—which marks a tragic massacre of Native people in America—by fasting at Columbus Statue Park in Tampa from sunrise to sunset.
FIA chose the park, located at 300 Bayshore Blvd., because it sees the statue as a, “grotesque monument to genocide and mass murder,” a practice in America that Thanksgiving also celebrates. The group has demonstrated against the monument several times, demanding its removal, so it will mourn there to symbolize Indigenous peoples’ struggles on Thanksgiving.
“The dominant society is taught that Masssasoit and the Wampanoag people welcomed the pilgrims and taught them survival skills,” FIA wrote in a post announcing the Day of Mourning in Tampa. “Americans are also taught that the Pilgrims invited their Indian friends to attend the first Thanksgiving to celebrate their survival. This is, in fact, a lie.”
FIA says that most people in this country do not realize what the Thanksgiving celebration is about, because the truth has been buried.
The first Thanksgiving did not occur in 1621 when the pilgrim survivors of the first winter sat down to dinner with Indians in a friendly feast, as many are taught in grade school. In fact, many brutalities were waged against the Natives, beginning in 1621, including beheadings of Native leaders. Their heads were posted at the colonies to show other Natives what might happen to them. According to journals from the time, the colonists received the severed heads “with joy”.
Then, in 1637, Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop proclaimed the first official day of “Thanks Giving and feasting,” to honor the treacherous massacre of over 700 Pequot and Wampanoag men, women, and children.
According to Winthrop’s journal, colonists attempted to conduct a full scale “ethnic cleansing” of the local Natives by setting fire to the sleeping village shortly before dawn. English sources estimated that 400–700 people were burned alive or murdered in other ways during the attack, but many Natives say the number was well over 700. The men who committed these atrocities “had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings,” Winthrop wrote in his journal.
Winthrop also encouraged other colonies to do likewise, and the news of this bloodthirsty “Thanksgiving” spread through the country.
Because of this tragic history and the events that followed, FIA and Natives around the country are mourning those they have lost.
The first official Day of Mourning in recent history took place in 1970, when Wamsutta, also known as Frank James, was invited to a Plymouth, Massachusetts, Thanksgiving celebration that centered around the false narrative that the occasion celebrates a great feast between Natives and pilgrims.
According to the educational website Mayflower 400, which seeks to bring to light the “ruthless consequences of colonization,'' James wrote a scathing indictment of the Pilgrims for the Thanksgiving event. He described how they desecrated Native American graves, stealing food and land, while decimating the population with disease.
The hosts of the event deemed James’ speech inappropriate and inflammatory. They gave him a revised speech, which he refused to read when he arrived at the gathering.
James vowed that the Wampanoag and other Native peoples would regain their rightful place and was ‘uninvited’ from the event. Supporters followed James to hear him give his original speech on Cole’s Hill, next to the statue of former Wampanoag leader Ousamequin.
This became the first official National Day of Mourning, which is now practiced all over the U.S.
As FIA carries on the tradition of the Day of Mourning in Tampa, the group welcomes supporters to stop by Columbus Statue Park on Thanksgiving.
“We ask all who can to join us, even for part of the day, in our sunrise to sunset fast in a Day of Mourning,” FIA wrote.
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