Frank James (1923 - February 20, 2001), known to the Wampanoag people
as Wamsutta, was invited to speak by the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts at 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.
Wamsutta 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 Wamsutta, an Aquinnah Wampanoag elder and Native American
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
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.
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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.