Historical Information

The Death of Native Leader Wamsutta Frank James

Dear Friends:

We are sorry to let you know that Wamsutta Frank James died around midnight last night (Feb. 20, 2001). He was a lifelong warrior for all Native people. He never gave up the fight for self-determination, land, and treaty rights.

Below is some general information we have provided to area newspapers to use in writing obituary columns. At the bottom is information about the burial which is scheduled for Saturday, 24 February at noon for those who wish to attend.

Moonanum James for United American Indians of New England

Frank B. (Wamsutta) James 1923-2001

Frank B. (Wamsutta) James, an Aquinnah Wampanoag elder and Native American activist, died February 20, 2001 at the age of 77.

James first came to national attention in 1970 when he, with hundreds of other Native Americans and their supporters, went to Plymouth, Massachusetts and declared Thanksgiving day a National Day of Mourning for Native Americans.

The National Day of Mourning protest in Plymouth continues to this day, now led by his son, and the group James helped found in 1970, the United American Indians of New England (UAINE).

James was proud of his Native American heritage long before it was fashionable to do so, and spent many hours researching the history of theWampanoag Nation and of the English invasion of the New England region.

A brilliant trumpet player, James was the first Native American graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music in 1948. While many of his classmates secured positions with top symphony orchestras, James was flatly told that, due to segregation and racism, no orchestra in the country would hire him because of his dark skin. While at the Conservatory, he became the first non-white member of the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity.

In 1957, James became a music teacher on Cape Cod, where he was a very popular and influential instructor. He went on to become the Director of Music of the Nauset Regional Schools, retiring in 1989.

James devoted much of his life to fighting against racism and to fighting for the rights of all Indian people. James often traveled long distances to be at Native American protests, including the Trail of Broken Treaties in Washington, DC in 1972, when Native American activists took over the Burea of Indian Affairs building, and the historic Longest Walk from California to Washington, DC in 1978. Although he was less active in recent years due to declining health, he always maintained an interest in all Native American issues.

He was the moderator of United American Indians of New England from 1970 until the mid-1990s. [UAINE is the organization which organizes the National Day of Mourning protests in Plymouth.] A former President of the Federated Eastern Indian League, he was also the Executive Director of Operation Mainstream on Cape Cod in the 1970s. [FEIL was an organization of all Native American people from the East Coast.] [Operation Mainstream was a federally-funded job retraining program serving the Cape and Islands; it was later absorbed by CETA.] In the 1970s, he was appointed by Gov. Sargent to the newly-created Mass. Commission on Indian Affairs. James later resigned from the Commission due to what he felt was the state’s refusal to take Native American needs and issues seriously. [See the "The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta James", which was delivered at the first National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, MA in 1970]

James was considered by many who knew him to be a true Renaissance man. In addition to his many other talents, he was also a gifted painter, scrimshaw artist, silversmith, draftsman, builder, raconteur, model shipmaker, fisherman, and sailor.

He is survived by his sisters, June MacDonald of Chatham, Vivian of Brewster, and Shirley Freethy of Chathamport; his children Roland of Weymouth, Sharon Ryone of Brewster, and Donna Sacher of Westminster, Colorado; and his grandchildren Allen, Derek, Benjamin, Andrew, Leslie, Ki’Sha, and Womsikuk.

Burial will be at the Seaside Cemetery on Crowell Road in Chatham, MA on Saturday, February 24 at 12 noon.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the:

Metacom Education Project, Inc.
P.O. Box 697512
Quincy, MA 02269
which has established the Wamsutta Frank James Memorial Scholarship Fund.

The greatest single acts of terrorism to date were not perpetrated by Osama bin Laden, but by the US military when it dropped atomic bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Moonanum James
at National Day of Mourning 2001

photo: Cemile Cakir
Moonanum James at National Day of Mourning 2001

Speech by Moonanum James
32nd National Day of Mourning, 2001

Sisters and Brothers:

We wish to dedicate this day to Wamsutta Frank James, who passed into the spirit world in February of this year, and who was a man of tremendous courage and wisdom.

We also wish to dedicate today to our brother Leonard Peltier, who still waits for justice in the iron cage called Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

Today marks the 32nd time that United American Indians of New England and our supporters have gathered on this hill to observe a National Day of Mourning.

Unfortunately, many of those who organized that first Day of Mourning are with us today in spirit only.

At this time I would like to recognize those here today who were at the first Day of Mourning (Shirley Mills, Lone Eagless, Clint Wixon, etc.).

In 1970, United American Indians of New England declared the US thanksgiving holiday to be a National Day of Mourning. This came about as a result of the suppression of the truth. Wamsutta Frank James, an Aquinnah Wampanoag man, had been asked to speak at a fancy Commonwealth of Massachusetts banquet celebrating the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. He agreed. The organizers of the dinner asked for a copy of the speech he planned to deliver. He agreed. Within days Wamsutta was told by a representative of the Massachusetts Department of Commerce and Development that he would not be allowed to give the speech. The reason given was that, “...the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place.” What they were really saying was that in this society, the truth is out of place.

What was it about the speech that got those officials so upset? Wamsutta used as a basis for his remarks one of their own history books - a Pilgrim’s account of their first year on Indian land. The book tells of the opening of my ancestor’s graves, taking our corn and bean supplies, and of the selling of my ancestors as slaves for 220 shillings each. Wamsutta was going to tell the truth. But the organizers of the fancy state dinner told

Wamsutta that they would let him speak only if he agreed to deliver a sugar-coated speech that they would provide. Wamsutta refused to have words put into his mouth. Instead of speaking at the dinner, he and many hundreds of other Native people and our supporters from throughout the Americas gathered in Plymouth and observed the first National Day of Mourning.

On that first Day of Mourning back in 1970, Plymouth Rock was buried not once, but twice. The Mayflower was boarded and the Union Jack was torn from the mast and replaced with the flag that had flown over liberated Alcatraz Island. The roots of National Day of Mourning have always been firmly embedded in the soil of militant protest.

That first Day of Mourning was a powerful demonstration of Native unity. Today is a powerful demonstration of not only Native unity, but of the unity of all people who want the truth to be told and want to see an end to the oppressive system brought to these shores by the Pilgrim invaders.

Those who started National Day of Mourning could not have envisioned that we would still be here, year after year, carrying on this new tradition. I am sad to report that the conditions which prevailed in Indian Country in 1970 still prevail today. We continue to demand an end to the corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs. This was a demand back in 1970 and is still just as valid today. When will Native nations be free to govern ourselves? And why has no one been prosecuted for the BIA's outright theft of hundreds of millions of dollars in trust money? How dare the corrupt bureaucrats of the BIA sit in judgment of who is Native and who is not? How dare they tell the Nipmuc and the Chinook and the Duwamish that they are somehow no longer real? Who are they to fail to recognize the Mashpee Wampanoag?

Back in 1970, those who started Day of Mourning spoke of terrible racism and poverty. Racism is still alive and well. Our people still are mired in the deepest poverty. We still lack decent healthcare, education, and housing. Every winter, thousands of our people have to make a bitter choice between heating and eating. Our youth suicide rates, our rates of alcoholism, continue to be the highest in the nation. As the economy crumbles around us, these conditions will only worsen.

Today we mourn the loss of millions of our ancestors and the devastation of our beautiful land and water and air. We pray for our people who have died during this past year. We join America in grieving for those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center. And I hope that you will join me in grieving, too, for the immense suffering of our sisters and brothers in Afghanistan, in Palestine, in Iraq, human beings who are referred to by this government as "collateral damage." We remember all too well that our people throughout the Americas have for centuries been the "collateral damage" of the European invasion.

The events of this past September were tragic and have affected all of us. Many innocent people lost their lives. We condemn all acts of violence and terrorism perpetrated by all governments and organizations against innocent civilians worldwide. And we condemn the racial profiling and detentions that are being directed against our Arab, South Asian, and Muslim brothers and sisters in this country.

But the events of September 11th were certainly not the first acts of terrorism to have occurred in this country. Since Columbus and the rest of the Europeans invaded our lands, Native people have been virtually non-stop victims of terrorism. I think of the slaughter of the Pequots at Mystic, Connecticut in 1637. I think of US military massacres of peaceful Native people at Wounded Knee and Sand Creek and so many, many other places. I think of the armed assault by the FBI on a peaceful encampment at Pine Ridge in the 1970s. In fact, the very foundations of this powerful and wealthy country are the theft of our lands and slaughter of Native peoples and the kidnapping and enslavement of our African-American sisters and brothers. And the US-assisted terrorism against Native peoples continues to this day in all too many countries in Central and South America. Native people were also the first victims of bioterrorism in this country. The illnesses that the Europeans brought devastated us. Many villages right here in this area were laid waste by European diseases brought by trading ships before the pilgrims arrived. But this destruction was not merely a biological accident. We know that smallpox was often spread intentionally, by Lord Jeffrey Amherst and others who distributed smallpox-infected blankets to our ancestors. Entire Native nations were wiped out as a result of this. I think that every Native person who is standing here today is a survivor of smallpox.

When I was in the Navy, I was stationed for many years in Japan. And one thing I know from living there: the greatest single acts of terrorism to date were not perpetrated by Osama bin Laden, but by the US military when it dropped atomic bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A large number of our Native people are veterans and have family members in the armed services. My oldest son, Wamsutta’s grandson, is in the army. I pray today that no more daughters, or sons, mothers, or fathers, will be called upon to put on a uniform and go to war.

National Day of Mourning 2001
photo: Cemile Cakir
National Day of Mourning 2001

Many of our great leaders were people of peace. Blackhawk once observed, "Why is it that you Americans always insist on taking with a gun what you could have through love?" We remember the teachings of peace and pray today that the cycles of violence and destruction will end. By continuing the cycle of violence, the US will continue to be the most despised country in many parts of the world, and the common people here and abroad will be the ones who suffer. We must continue to pray for justice and world peace.

And we express our grave concern that, as political repression increases in this country, prison conditions will get even worse for our brother Leonard Peltier and for the other political prisoners such as Mumia Abu Jamal.

These are indeed difficult times. But our ancestors and our traditions will give us the strength that we need. Always we must remember that we shall endure. A handful of us somehow managed to survive Columbus, and the conquistadores, and the pilgrims, and the French, and all the other invaders. Beautiful Native youth: remember what your ancestors went through to bring you here. We are like the dirt, like the sand, like the tides. We shall endure. The struggle will continue. In the spirit of Crazy Horse, in the spirit of Zapata, in the spirit of Metacom, in the spirit of Anna Mae Aquash, in the spirit of Geronimo. We are not vanishing. We are not conquered. We are as strong as ever.

National Day of Mourning, 'No giving thanks for colonialism'

by Mahtowin Munro
Plymouth, Mass., Nov. 29, 2002

More than 500 people, from all the four directions, braved bitter cold to participate in the 33rd National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Mass., on Nov. 28. The event is organized annually by United American Indians of New England (UAINE).

Native people from many nations were in attendance, as well as many non-Native supporters, providing a powerful demonstration of unity. The co-leaders of UAINE particularly acknowledged the presence of Palestinian supporters, noting that "Their struggle is one with our struggle."

According to Moonanum James, a Wampanaog and co-leader of UAINE, "Our very presence frees this land from the lies of the history books, the profiteers and the mythmakers. We will honor all peoples' ancestors in struggle who went before us."

Several of the speakers honored those who had died during the past year. All spoke of the true history of the European settlement of the Americas and the importance of teaching children that truth.

After a speak-out during which many speakers called for freedom for Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier, Day of Mourning participants marched through the streets of Plymouth. During a street rally that blocked traffic on the waterfront by Plymouth Rock, Raul Ruiz (Mexica), part of the Danza Azteca group that led the march, called upon participants to "crush the rock and all that it represents."

This annual Native American protest of the mythology surrounding the Pilgrims and "Thanksgiving" first occurred in 1970 after an attempt to suppress the truth.

Wamsutta Frank James, an Aquinnah Wampanoag man, had been invited to address a gathering sponsored by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts commemorating the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims.

Because Wamsutta was going to talk about how the coming of the Pilgrims and other European colonialists brought about the devastation of the Wampanoag and other Native peoples in the northeastern U.S., officials of Massachusetts demanded that he follow a script that they would provide.

Wamsutta refused, and as a result Native and non-Native people gathered in Plymouth and declared U.S. "Thanksgiving Day" a National Day of Mourning. UAINE and their supporters have gathered, in good or bad weather, every year since.

Sadly, the conditions of racism and poverty in Indian Country that prevailed in 1970 continue today. For example, as Moonanum James pointed out, "Many Native people are forced to choose every winter between heating and eating. As the economy crumbles and social programs are eliminated altogether, these conditions will only worsen."

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Message from Mumia Abu-Jamal to National Day of Mourning '98

Mumia Abu-Jamal

When one considers the historic holocaust waged against the original people of this continent, one wonders, not about a "Day of Mourning," but about '500 years of Mourning; for it has been over 5 centuries since this continent was invaded by mercenaries seeking the land of 'El Dorada', the land of gold, riches, and natural abundance. For Native peoples, the holocaust continues, every day, as they remain a people largely colonized in the land of their ancestors.

That said, "Thanksgiving," for the United American Indians of New England and millions of Native folks across the continent (as well as millions of friends and supporters of them) is hardly a day of celebration; for how do you celebrate a holocaust? If it were a real "Thanksgiving", it would mark not white dominance of Indians, but Native Independence and true freedom in the land of their ancestors!

On the Move!
Mumia Abu-Jamal

A Letter from Leonard Peltier to Mumia Abu-Jamal

I sadly write from my prison cell. I am sad that you remain unjustly incarcerated on death row for 25 years. I have read that the Court will be addressing further arguments on your case, and I pray that you will finally get the justice you deserve.

I know how frustrating it is for you, as it is for me, to continue to receive negative results in the face of the blatant injustices that have been recognized in our respective cases.

All we have is hope. Hope that finally the right thing will be done and justice will be done. An injustice against any one of us is an injustice against us all, and it is essential that we reach the masses so they will force action before our society is swallowed by the evil forces amongst us.

I applaud those courageous people who have supported us, and, when I feel low and hopeless, I think of them and what they do for us, and refuse to surrender. So, I continue to encourage you to stay strong, and to continue the fight until you are set free.

I want to thank all of you who have dedicated your lives to our freedom. Stay strong and keep Mumia strong. We must not let anyone forget the great injustices that Mumia has suffered.

We must keep strong. We must intensify the fight.

We cannot succumb to the forces in society who seek to keep us quiet and who seek to Show less the blatant injustices which keep us penned like animals.

If we are able to unify the masses and stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, we are not only saving the life of the man who speaks for those who are not often heard and whose stories are rarely told, but you are saving all of us who remain unjustly behind bars, saving us from the depths of hopelessness.

Free Mumia Abu Jamal!

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
Leonard Peltier

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Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning for Indians

by Moonanum James and Mahtowin Munro

Every year since 1970, United American Indians of New England have organized the National Day of Mourning observance in Plymouth at noon on Thanksgiving Day. Every year, hundreds of Native people and our supporters from all four directions join us. Every year, including this year, Native people from throughout the Americas will speak the truth about our history and about current issues and struggles we are involved in.

Why do hundreds of people stand out in the cold rather than sit home eating turkey and watching football? Do we have something against a harvest festival?

Of course not. But Thanksgiving in this country -- and in particular in Plymouth --is much more than a harvest home festival. It is a celebration of the pilgrim mythology.

According to this mythology, the pilgrims arrived, the Native people fed them and welcomed them, the Indians promptly faded into the background, and everyone lived happily ever after.

The truth is a sharp contrast to that mythology.

The pilgrims are glorified and mythologized because the circumstances of the first English-speaking colony in Jamestown were frankly too ugly (for example, they turned to cannibalism to survive) to hold up as an effective national myth. The pilgrims did not find an empty land any more than Columbus "discovered" anything. Every inch of this land is Indian land. The pilgrims (who did not even call themselves pilgrims) did not come here seeking religious freedom; they already had that in Holland. They came here as part of a commercial venture. They introduced sexism, racism, anti-lesbian and gay bigotry, jails, and the class system to these shores. One of the very first things they did when they arrived on Cape Cod -- before they even made it to Plymouth -- was to rob Wampanoag graves at Corn Hill and steal as much of the Indians' winter provisions of corn and beans as they were able to carry. They were no better than any other group of Europeans when it came to their treatment of the Indigenous peoples here. And no, they did not even land at that sacred shrine called Plymouth Rock, a monument to racism and oppression which we are proud to say we buried in 1995.

The first official "Day of Thanksgiving" was proclaimed in 1637 by Governor Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of men from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who had gone to Mystic, Connecticut to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children, and men.

About the only true thing in the whole mythology is that these pitiful European strangers would not have survived their first several years in "New England" were it not for the aid of Wampanoag people. What Native people got in return for this help was genocide, theft of our lands, and never-ending repression. We are treated either as quaint relics from the past, or are, to most people, virtually invisible.

When we dare to stand up for our rights, we are considered unreasonable. When we speak the truth about the history of the European invasion, we are often told to "go back where we came from." Our roots are right here. They do not extend across any ocean.

National Day of Mourning began in 1970 when a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta Frank James, was asked to speak at a state dinner celebrating the 350th anniversary of the pilgrim landing. He refused to speak false words in praise of the white man for bringing civilization to us poor heathens. Native people from throughout the Americas came to Plymouth, where they mourned their forebears who had been sold into slavery, burned alive, massacred, cheated, and mistreated since the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620.

But the commemoration of National Day of Mourning goes far beyond the circumstances of 1970.

Can we give thanks as we remember Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier, who was framed up by the FBI and has been falsely imprisoned since 1976? Despite mountains of evidence exonerating Peltier and the proven misconduct of federal prosecutors and the FBI, Peltier has been denied a new trial. Bill Clinton apparently does not feel that particular pain and has refused to grant clemency to this innocent man.

To Native people, the case of Peltier is one more ordeal in a litany of wrongdoings committed by the U.S. government against us. While the media in New England present images of the "Pequot miracle" in Connecticut, the vast majority of Native people continue to live in the most abysmal poverty.

Can we give thanks for the fact that, on many reservations, unemployment rates surpass fifty percent? Our life expectancies are much lower, our infant mortality and teen suicide rates much higher, than those of white Americans. Racist stereotypes of Native people, such as those perpetuated by the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, and countless local and national sports teams, persist. Every single one of the more than 350 treaties that Native nations signed has been broken by the U.S. government. The bipartisan budget cuts have severely reduced educational opportunities for Native youth and the development of new housing on reservations, and have caused cause deadly cutbacks in health-care and other necessary services.

Are we to give thanks for being treated as unwelcome in our own country?

Or perhaps we are expected to give thanks for the war that is being waged by the Mexican government against Indigenous peoples there, with the military aid of the U.S. in the form of helicopters and other equipment? When the descendants of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca flee to the U.S., the descendants of the wash-ashore pilgrims term them 'illegal aliens" and hunt them down.

We object to the "Pilgrim Progress" parade and to what goes on in Plymouth because they are making millions of tourist dollars every year from the false pilgrim mythology. That money is being made off the backs of our slaughtered indigenous ancestors.

Increasing numbers of people are seeking alternatives to such holidays as Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. They are coming to the conclusion that, if we are ever to achieve some sense of community, we must first face the truth about the history of this country and the toll that history has taken on the lives of millions of Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian, and poor and working class white people.

The myth of Thanksgiving, served up with dollops of European superiority and manifest destiny, just does not work for many people in this country. As Malcolm X once said about the African-American experience in America, "We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us." Exactly.

Mahtowin Munro (Lakota) and Moonanum James (Wampanoag)
co-leaders of United American Indians of New England

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