When Frank James (1923 - February 20, 2001), known
to the Wampanoag people as Wampsutta, was invited to speak by the
Commonwealth of Massachusettsat the 1970 annual Thanksgiving feast
at Plymouth. When the text of Mr. James’ speech, a powerful
statement of anger at the history of oppression of the Native people
of America, became known before the event, the Commonwealth "disinvited"
him. Wampsutta was not prepared to have his speech revised by the
Pilgrims. He left the dinner and the ceremonies and went to the
hill near the statue of the Massasoit, who as the leader of the
Wampanoags when the Pilgrims landed in their territory. There overlooking
Plymouth Harbor, he looked at the replica of the Mayflower. It was
there that he gave his speech that was to be given to the Pilgrims
and their guests. There eight or ten Indians and their supporters
listened in indignation as Frank talked of the takeover of the Wampanoag
tradition, culture, religion, and land.
That silencing of a strong and honest Native voice
led to the convening of the National Day of Mourning. The following
is the text of 1970 speech by Wampsutta, an Aquinnah Wampanoag elder
and Native American activist.
I speak to you as a man -- a Wampanoag Man. I am a
proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict
parental direction ("You must succeed - your face is a different
color in this small Cape Cod community!"). I am a product of
poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases.
I, and my brothers and sisters, have painfully overcome, and to
some extent we have earned the respect of our community. We are
Indians first - but we are termed "good citizens." Sometimes
we are arrogant but only because society has pressured us to be
It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share
my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you - celebrating
an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time
of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I
look back upon what happened to my People.
Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice
for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them
as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored
the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the
graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt's
Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes
on to say that this party took as much of the Indians' winter provisions
as they were able to carry.
Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew
these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers
of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe
had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh
oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these
acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake.
We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms,
little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before
50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.
What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened
in the last 300 years? History gives us facts and there were atrocities;
there were broken promises - and most of these centered around land
ownership. Among ourselves we understood that there were boundaries,
but never before had we had to deal with fences and stone walls.
But the white man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of
land that he owned. Only ten years later, when the Puritans came,
they treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting
the souls of the so-called "savages." Although the Puritans
were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was pressed
between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any other "witch."
And so down through the years there is record after
record of Indian lands taken and, in token, reservations set up
for him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of
his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took
his land and used it for his personal gain. This the Indian could
not understand; for to him, land was survival, to farm, to hunt,
to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after incident,
where the white man sought to tame the "savage" and convert
him to the Christian ways of life. The early Pilgrim settlers led
the Indian to believe that if he did not behave, they would dig
up the ground and unleash the great epidemic again.
The white man used the Indian's nautical skills and
abilities. They let him be only a seaman -- but never a captain.
Time and time again, in the white man's society, we Indians have
been termed "low man on the totem pole."
Has the Wampanoag really disappeared? There is still
an aura of mystery. We know there was an epidemic that took many
Indian lives - some Wampanoags moved west and joined the Cherokee
and Cheyenne. They were forced to move. Some even went north to
Canada! Many Wampanoag put aside their Indian heritage and accepted
the white man's way for their own survival. There are some Wampanoag
who do not wish it known they are Indian for social or economic
What happened to those Wampanoags who chose to remain
and live among the early settlers? What kind of existence did they
live as "civilized" people? True, living was not as complex
as life today, but they dealt with the confusion and the change.
Honesty, trust, concern, pride, and politics wove themselves in
and out of their [the Wampanoags'] daily living. Hence, he was termed
crafty, cunning, rapacious, and dirty.
History wants us to believe that the Indian was a
savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written
by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized
and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met.
One thought they must control life; the other believed life was
to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian
is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain,
gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and
failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh.
He, too, is often misunderstood.
The white man in the presence of the Indian is still
mystified by his uncanny ability to make him feel uncomfortable.
This may be the image the white man has created of the Indian; his
"savageness" has boomeranged and isn't a mystery; it is
fear; fear of the Indian's temperament!
High on a hill, overlooking the famed Plymouth Rock,
stands the statue of our great Sachem, Massasoit. Massasoit has
stood there many years in silence. We the descendants of this great
Sachem have been a silent people. The necessity of making a living
in this materialistic society of the white man caused us to be silent.
Today, I and many of my people are choosing to face the truth. We
Although time has drained our culture, and our language
is almost extinct, we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of Massachusetts.
We may be fragmented, we may be confused. Many years have passed
since we have been a people together. Our lands were invaded. We
fought as hard to keep our land as you the whites did to take our
land away from us. We were conquered, we became the American prisoners
of war in many cases, and wards of the United States Government,
until only recently.
Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the
woodland paths and sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam
highways and roads. We are uniting We're standing not in our wigwams
but in your concrete tent. We stand tall and proud, and before too
many moons pass we'll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen
We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into
the hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep
us on our knees. What has happened cannot be changed, but today
we must work towards a more humane America, a more Indian America,
where men and nature once again are important; where the Indian
values of honor, truth, and brotherhood prevail.
You the white man are celebrating an anniversary.
We the Wampanoags will help you celebrate in the concept of a beginning.
It was the beginning of a new life for the Pilgrims. Now, 350 years
later it is a beginning of a new determination for the original
American: the American Indian.
There are some factors concerning the Wampanoags and
other Indians across this vast nation. We now have 350 years of
experience living amongst the white man. We can now speak his language.
We can now think as a white man thinks. We can now compete with
him for the top jobs. We're being heard; we are now being listened
to. The important point is that along with these necessities of
everyday living, we still have the spirit, we still have the unique
culture, we still have the will and, most important of all, the
determination to remain as Indians. We are determined, and our presence
here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning
of the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to regain the
position in this country that is rightfully ours.