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.
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.
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 so.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
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 reasons.
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.
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.
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
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 ARE Indians!
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.
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 to us.
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
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.
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