National Day of Mourning: What is Unthanksgiving Day?
When you think about the month of November, fall foliage, family gatherings, and Thanksgiving feasts are likely some of the things that come to mind. After all, the fourth Thursday in November for many Americans symbolizes a day of gratitude, gravy, and good times. But that same Thursday in November also marks the National Day of Mourning and Unthanksgiving Day, a day of protest that illuminates Native American perspectives surrounding the very first Thanksgiving.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the National Day of Mourning and answer some important questions, including:
- What is the National Day of Mourning?
- Who Proposed an Official Day of Mourning?
- Who Celebrates National Day of Mourning?
- How Do You Observe National Day of Mourning?
- Show Up
- Listen and Learn
- Support Native American Businesses
Read end to end for a detailed overview of the National Day of Mourning, its history, and how you can participate and learn more.
What is National Day of Mourning?
The National Day of Mourning is a protest that takes place on the fourth Thursday in November, the same day as the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. The National Day of Mourning highlights Native American perspectives and remembrance of loved ones who suffered as a result of the arrival of the pilgrims and European settlers in the United States. Originally organized by the United American Indians of New England, the protest will be celebrating its 51st anniversary in Plymouth, Massachusetts this year.
Today, the National Day of Mourning serves as a reminder of the Native American experience on the first Thanksgiving in 1621, as well as the racism and oppression Native American people continue to face in society today. While the initial National Day of Mourning still takes place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, there are several variations of the protest that happen throughout the country, including Unthanksgiving Day, which is organized in San Francisco.
Both the National Day of Mourning and Unthanksgiving Day protests provide a platform for Native American peoples to share their experiences, honor loved ones lost, and advocate for progressive measures to improve the lives of native people and their relations with their past, present, and future.
What is Unthanksgiving Day?
Similar to the National Day of Mourning, Unthanksgiving Day is a demonstration held on the fourth Thursday of November in remembrance of the Native American lives lost following the European settlement of the United States. The Unthanksgiving Day protest is held on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay.
Who Proposed an Official Day of Mourning?
The official National Day of Mourning was established by the United American Indians of New England back in 1970 when Wamsutta Frank James, a Wampanoag man, rejected an invitation to speak at an event celebrating the 350th anniversary of the pilgrims’ arrival in Plymouth. James declined the offer to “speak false words” in thanks of the pilgrims who claimed native land and caused pain and suffering to native people.
Since then, the organization along with its supporters continues to amplify Native American perspectives relative to the Thanksgiving holiday and other current struggles native people face today.
Who Celebrates National Day of Mourning?
The National Day of Mourning is celebrated by the Wampanoag people, who are local to the New England area, as well as tribes across the United States, and other Americans who show their support and recognize Native American perspectives.
Now that we’ve discussed the National Day of Mourning’s meaning and its history, let’s take a look at how you can integrate the National Day of Mourning into your own Thanksgiving traditions, and in turn, help uplift Native American communities.
How Do You Observe National Day of Mourning?
Whether you’re a part of the Native American community or simply want to learn more about their history and experience, there are several ways you can do so. No matter if you have time, financial resources, or a listening ear to give, there are plenty of ways you can observe the National Day of Mourning and Unthanksgiving Day in tandem with your own family traditions.
In this section, we’ll highlight several ways you can offer your support and educate yourself and others by showing up, listening and learning, donating, and supporting Native American businesses.
One way you can participate in National Day of Mourning or Unthanksgiving Day is by showing up to the demonstrations themselves. You can show your support as an ally on the sidelines or get involved as a volunteer for the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), among other organizations.
If you’re looking for ways to get involved beyond the National Day of Mourning and Unthanksgiving protests, check out the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s list of volunteer opportunities, which includes:
- Red Feather Development Group
- Adopt a Native Elder Program
- AmeriCorps in Native American Communities
- The International Partnership for Service Learning and Leadership
- Corporation for National and Community Service
- Youth Service America
- Peace Corps Kids World
- United We Serve
- Citizen Corps
- National Society for American Indian Elderly (NSAIE)
If you have the resources to do so, you can also show your support by making a donation to an organization that supports Native American communities. There are many ways to give — donate money, goods, or even a gift such as a fall plant, funeral spray, or a bouquet of funeral roses to honor to those lost.
Listen and Learn
Whether or not you have the financial resources or free time to show your support for the Native American community on the National Day of Mourning, you can certainly make an effort to learn more about their history, culture, and their experience with the Thanksgiving holiday.
There are many ways you can educate yourself on these topics, whether it’s reading books and historical accounts, watching documentary series, consuming Native American artworks, or visiting cultural sites.
First Nations Development Institute has published a helpful resource guide where you can find information on:
With your new knowledge of the National Day of Mourning, you can gather round the Thanksgiving dinner table, reflect on more diverse perspectives, and make plans to continue your social justice activism with the Native American community and beyond.
Support Native American Businesses
Another way you can express your support on the National Day of Mourning is by shopping from Native American businesses. Whether it’s brick and mortar stores, restaurants, service shops, or artists, your continued business can go a long way!
Here are a few Native American owned businesses you can support online, courtesy of Beyond Buckskin:
- Beyond Buckskin Boutique
- Edzerza Gallery
- Eighth Generation
- She Native
- Nani Chacon Art
- Two Dogs and a Bear
- Indigo Arrows
- Native Harvest
- Sheridan MacKnight
- Sister Sky
- Herbal Lodge
- Sakari Botanicals
- Ah Shi
- Prados Beauty
- Off the Rez
- Spotted Horses Coffee
- Great Oak Press
- Native Realities
- Birchbark Books
- First American Art Magazine
- Cheekbone Beauty
- Heard Museum Shop
- Cherokee Woman
- Indi City
- Saba Wear
- Gourd Jewels
- Neechie Gear
Note: You can view more Native American owned small businesses here on Etsy.
The official National Day of Mourning and Unthanksgiving demonstrations will take place on Thursday, November 26th, 2020 in Plymouth, Massachusetts and on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. However, you can show your support for the Native American community no matter where you are in the world.
By learning about different perspectives, donating your time and money, joining social justice advocacy groups, and supporting Native American-owned businesses, you can make your Thanksgiving celebration more inclusive this year and into the future.
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