54th National Day of Mourning demands: ‘Land Back, from Turtle Island to Palestine!’

November 28, 2023

Plymouth, Massachusetts

Over 2,000 Indigenous people and their supporters — with thousands more in attendance via live stream — shut down business as usual in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Nov. 23 to commemorate the 54th National Day of Mourning (NDOM). Here — where millions of tourist dollars depend on the origin myth of the Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, landing on an apocryphal rock as advertisement for the U.S.’s most sanctified of holidays — protesters filled the blockaded Main Street business district with demands to “Free Leonard Peltier!” and “Free Palestine!”

54th National Day of Mourning, Plymouth, Massachusetts, Nov. 23, 2023. (54th National Day of Mourning, Plymouth, Massachusetts, Nov. 23, 2023.)

Following an opening ceremony at noon on Cole’s Hill, leaders of United American Indians of New England (UAINE) rallied the swelling crowd overlooking Plymouth Harbor. Kisha James (Aquinnah Wampanoag and Oglala Lakota), UAINE co-leader, opened by recounting the history and significance of NDOM, founded in 1970 by her grandfather Wamsutta Frank James.

James exploded the racist “thanksgiving” legend at the center of U.S. settler-colonial mythology. Far from seeking refuge from “religious persecution,” the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonists were participating in a commercial and military venture –  spelled out in their “Mayflower Compact”– which resulted in the genocide of the Indigenous peoples of the land, including the Wampanoag, and theft of their lands.

Nor did the first “thanksgiving” take place in 1621, as bourgeois historians and mass media continue to falsely claim. Rather, it took place in 1637 when Governor John Winthrop proclaimed the first official “day of thanksgiving” to celebrate the massacre of over 700 Pequot children, women and men on the banks of the Mystic River, nearly 100 miles from the Plimoth Plantation.

James said: “Our very presence on this land frees this land from the lies of the history books and the mythmakers. We will remember and honor all of our ancestors in the struggle who went before us. We will speak truth to power as we have been doing since the first National Day of Mourning in 1970.”

James vowed that the NDOM tradition will continue until all oppressed peoples win liberation from the racist, patriarchal, homophobic and transphobic system of capitalist settler colonialism that began with the Pilgrim invasion.

James declared: “We are not vanishing! We are not conquered! We are as strong as ever!”

Palestine: Struggle for Indigenous sovereignty

Mahtowin Munro (Oglala Lakota), co-leader of UAINE, called attention to the worsening climate catastrophe, which disproportionately affects Indigenous peoples, who protect over 80% of global biodiversity. As Munro stressed, neoliberal “green” energy plans are not genuine solutions to this crisis. “Eco-capitalist” projects — such as wind turbines built without consent on Aquinnah Wampanoag territory off the island of Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard) and the Peehee Mu’Huh (Thacker Pass) lithium mine on sacred and unceded Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone land — continue to exploit and destroy Indigenous lands.

UAINE banner reads: “From Turtle Island to Palestine, Colonialism is a Crime. Land Back.” Plymouth, Massachusetts, Nov. 23, 2023. (Credit: Maureen Skehan)

Munro proclaimed full solidarity with the Indigenous people of Palestine in their struggle against ongoing Zionist genocide: “Our organization (UAINE) has supported Palestinian resistance for decades, and we pledge to never let our relatives here or there down.

“When you see a genocide happening, whether in Congo, or Sudan, or Armenia or Palestine, you need to try to do something about it. If you are silent, that is supporting the genocide. And this is a basic principle that I think many of us as parents have taught to our children. Yet too many people are still standing by right now, afraid to speak up because of the repression that’s being directed at those who stand up and defend Palestine.”

As Munro emphasized, the Zionist terror-bombing and massacres over the past six weeks have continued and intensified the genocide that the Palestinian people have been experiencing since the 1940s.

Munro said: “What we are witnessing is the resurgence of the ongoing, barbaric violence of settler colonialism there. Palestinians have been subject to being killed, imprisoned, assaulted, tortured, starved and denied access to water for years. Right now, a second Nakba, or catastrophe, has been happening. And if you believe Land Back is necessary here, then you need to understand that Land Back is also necessary for other colonized peoples of the land.

“We speak plainly and say that this is also apartheid. Our organization opposed apartheid in South Africa decades ago, and we oppose it in Palestine now.”

Munro also highlighted the struggle of the Kānaka Maoli people of U.S-occupied Hawaiʻi as they continue to suffer from the devastation and displacement of the wildfires caused by settler mismanagement of their stolen lands.  She demanded settler authorities stop the ongoing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People epidemic (MMIWG2S+); and stressed the need to strengthen protections for Native children, who, despite the successful Indigenous-led campaign to uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act, remain at disproportionate risk of separation from their parents by racist settler authorities.

Harriet Prince (Sagkeeng First Nation), an 82-year-old residential school survivor, shared the horrific experiences she and her sister endured in these “schools”:  “They didn’t get rid of the Indian in me. I’m still here!”

Power in solidarity with Palestinian resistance

Salma Abu Ayyash (Palestinian) – the first Palestinian speaker in NDOM’s history — stressed the connections between the Palestinian people’s decades-long battle for self-determination and all other Indigenous struggles for liberation.

National Day of Mourning, Plymouth, Massachusetts, Nov. 23, 2023. (Credit: Rachel Duell)

Abu Ayyash said: “This gathering continues to be a place where we not only mourn and remember past and current genocides, but also a place where we unite in power, in our belief that a different world is possible. In our conviction that we, humans of all backgrounds, will not stand for supremacy, genocide and the continued extractive, destructive processes … that colonialism, capitalism, imperialism and greed continue to employ to destroy our planet and humanity.

“This is our struggle, our children’s struggle and that of our ancestors before us. And it will be a long one, it will be a hard one, but we will never, ever give up our fight for Indigenous rights of land stewardship and rematriation. We will never give up our right to fight for Black liberation and reparations. We will never give up fighting for all immigrants and oppressed people across the planet. And I hope you are all with me in our struggle to liberate Palestine.”

The crowd bolstered Abu Ayyash throughout with spontaneous chants of “Long Live Palestine!” and “Free, Free Palestine!”

As Abu Ayyash stressed, proposals for a temporary cease-fire or “humanitarian pause” in Gaza will not stop the Israeli genocide. Denouncing the essential U.S. financial and military support for the Zionist state, she urged continued protests in solidarity with Palestine in coordination with the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Abu Ayyash said:  “Our solidarity is everything. To our oppressors I say: You can build your dreams on our bones. You can imagine your safety guaranteed through the violence you inflict on us. But we will not stand by. We will resist you to our last word and our last breath.”

Chal’Inaru Dones (Taino), a Massachusetts representative of the United Confederation of Taino People, read a message from American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians). Peltier has been a U.S. political prisoner for 48 years.

Peltier wrote: “I spent most of my life caged. But they cannot cage the soul of a sun dancer. My grandfather taught me a long time ago what I must be and do for my people. That can and never will be caged. We are changing the world; every one of us must grasp what is ours to change. History is not something that happens in a vacuum. History is forged, and forge we will, until victorious.”

From Main Street to Plymouth Rock: ‘You are on Native land!’

From Cole’s Hill, demonstrators, led by Indigenous elders, marched through the tourist district of Plymouth chanting “No Justice, No Peace!” and “Land Back Now!”

At the site of “Plymouth Rock” — in reality a discredited stone surrounded by a Chamber of Commerce-funded Roman Doric Order facade — further speakers buried this token of settler-colonial mythology.

Speaking on behalf of the Council of Mayan Elders, Rosalba Gonzalez (Maya) stressed the importance of international solidarity among workers, peasants, students and teachers of all nationalities with Indigenous nations in their existential struggles to “build a world where many worlds fit.”

Jamiann Hasselquist S’eiltin (Tlingit) described the struggle of Indigenous nations in Alaska to reclaim sovereignty and self-determination on their traditional homelands despite genocidal U.S. colonization, which began in the 1860s with the bombardment of Native villages. She went on to lead the crowd in demands for “Land Back!”

The march ended at Post Office Square, where Massachusetts Bay colonists gruesomely displayed the head of Metacomet on a pike for over 20 years. Metacomet was a Wampanoag leader who led Native resistance to settler militias during “King Philip’s War” (1675-1676). His spouse, children and untold numbers of his people were sold into slavery on Caribbean plantations operated by the settlers’ founding fathers.

In the shadow of the Church of the Pilgrimage, Jean-Luc Pierite (Tunica Biloxi), President of the North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB), closed the rally by reading a resolution submitted to the National Congress of American Indians. The resolution urges unconditional solidarity between the Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island and the Palestinian people in their common fight to defeat settler-colonial genocide worldwide and reclaim their stolen lands.

View the uncut 3.5 hour live stream of NDOM 2023 — produced by Sunny Singh of hate5six.org — at youtube.com/watch?v=wR4wLyUYFss.