"The Pilgrims, who sought refuge here in
America from religious persecution in their
homeland, were right in their dogged
pursuit of religious liberty. But their actual
practice of religious liberty came at the
expense of the civil rights of Native Americans."
I prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I am reminded of the autumnal
harvest time's spiritual significance. As a time of connectedness, I
pause to acknowledge what I have to be thankful for. But I also reflect
on the holiday as a time of remembrance - present and historical.
Presently, I hope over this holiday season there will be a change of
heart with many U. S. governors now closing their doors to Syrian
refugees since the recent terrorist attacks in France.
Historically, I am reminded that for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is not a cause of celebration, but rather a National Day of Mourning.
Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Coles Hill in
Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on this U.S.
holiday. And for the Wampanoag nation of New England whose name means
“people of the dawn,” this national holiday is a reminder of the real
significance of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 as a symbol of
persecution of Native Americans and their long history of bloodshed
with European settlers.
Oddly, the first group of settlers were refugees-the Pilgrims.
And like many Syrians today, the Pilgrims were seeking a better life.
However, the Pilgrims, who sought refuge here in America from religious
persecution in their homeland, were right in their dogged pursuit of
religious liberty. But their actual practice of religious liberty came
at the expense of the civil rights of Native Americans.
And because the Pilgrims’ fervor for religious liberty was devoid of an
ethic of accountability, their actions did not set up the conditions
requisite for moral liability and legal justice. Instead, the actions
of the Pilgrims brought about the genocide of a people, a historical
amnesia of the event, and an annual national celebration of
Thanksgiving for their arrival.
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush designated November as “ national
American Indian Heritage Month” to celebrate the history, art, and
traditions of Native American people.
As we get into the holiday spirit, let us remember the whole story of the arrival of the Pilgrims.
"It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a
protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to
experience,” reads the text of the plaque on Coles Hill that overlooks
Plymouth Rock, the mythic symbol of where the Pilgrims first landed.
The United American Indians of New England (UAINE), a Native-led
organization of Native people supporting Indigenous struggles in New
England and throughout the Americas, as well as the struggles of
communities of color, LGBTQ communities, and, yes, Pilgrim refugees
understand the interconnections of struggles.
“Most pilgrims would have died during the harsh winter had it not been
for the open arms of the Native Americans,” Taylor Bell wrote in The
Hypocrisy Of Refusing Refugees at Thanksgiving.”
It is in the spirit of our connected struggles for life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness that we not solely focus on the story of
Plymouth Rock, but instead as Americans we focus on creating this
nation as a solid rock that rests on a multicultural and
And in so doing, it helps us to remember and respect the struggles that
not only this nation’s foremothers and forefathers endured, but
it also helps us to remember and respect the present-day struggle
Syrian refugees face as well as the ongoing struggle our Native
American brothers and sisters face everyday - and particularly on
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A
native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College
and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a
pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity
School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to
MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC.
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David A. Love, JD
Nancy Littlefield, MBA