Recent graduate of Wellesley College, Kisha James, attended a panel discussion as a guest speaker to debunk the myth of thanksgiving and emphasize the importance of commemorating the national day of mourning. James is a member of the Wampanoag tribe of Aquinnah and Oglala Lakota, whose homeland is in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts.
James described the popular myth that most Americans know of today. The Pilgrims were seeking religious freedom, they landed on Plymouth rock, where the Native Americans, referred to as American Indians by James, welcomed them with a feast and they lived happily ever after.
However, according to James, the myth that has been passed down from generation to generation and ingrained into school curriculums across America, is false. The Pilgrims, or Separatists, originated from England, arriving in Plymouth for the purpose of a commercial venture of the natural resources.
It was here that the Separatists met the Wampanoag tribe hoping to make a political alliance. The Wampanoag had saved the Separatists from starvation and a select few Wampanoag attended a harvest meal. James claimed that the first thanksgiving that was held was not a gathering of peace, but rather a feast to commemorate the massacre of hundreds of Pequots on the banks of the Mystic River in Connecticut.
The panel discussed why the spreading of the thanksgiving myth could potentially be harmful. According to James, “it perpetuates the idea of peaceful coexistence between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag” and causes native American Indians to be “erased from [their] own story”.
“I do think that because Thanksgiving is one of the foundational myths in America, there’s a reason why it is taught this way and why the Wampanoag specifically is not taught. If you perpetuate the idea that America was actually founded on genocide, that would be less marketable,” said James.
James highlighted how every year the annual day of mourning is held on the fourth Thursday of November which is a demonstration that aims to acknowledge the lives of Native Americans in the United States that were lost and dispel the myth that surrounds the famous American holiday.
The national day of mourning was founded by James’ grandfather, Wamsutta Frank James in 1970, and this year the 52nd Annual National Day of Mourning will be commemorated at noon on Cole’s Hill, Plymouth, MA. James discussed the backlash her grandfather received for hosting and organizing the demonstrations, being subject to threats from the police and the public.
Towards the end of the session, James opened up to a question and answer session where she received multiple questions from the audience. James mentioned that there are many ways to educate children about the grim reality of the holiday without diving into the graphic details as they would be able to understand phrases like “the pilgrims were not actually good people” in the story.
When asked about what can be done to influence the policy regarding changing school curriculums to include the true story, James replied saying, “within Massachusetts and other states, we do have curriculum bills currently at the statehouse, which would require public schools within Massachusetts to teach the true history of Thanksgiving”.
James added her involvement with the United American Indians of New England (UAINE) working as an archivist and youth organizer.