Day of Mourning: Our Thanksgiving Perspective

Content warning: mentions of violence, racism, murder, torture, slavery, and genocide.

(Updated: November 21, 2021)

The fourth Thursday in the month of November each year is a painful time for me. Cristophe and I join many Native American people to honor this day as National Day of Mourning. We mourn the countless people, vast knowledge, and diverse cultures lost to the American continents through forced colonization and genocide. Cris and I also personally extend this to the loss within all Indigenous cultures of the world.

This loss is felt even more deeply as the bodies of more and more Indigenous children are finally being found at the many Catholic/Christian residential/boarding schools in Canada and the United States. Schools that were government sponsored to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children to the oppressor culture through many means of torture and abuse that most did not survive. Some of these schools were still in operation into the 1990s. The bodies of almost 2,000 lost children have been found so far in Canada alone, as the search continues throughout the North American continent. We also work to bring awareness to the ongoing genocide of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2S).

Picture of Rimakej with a red hand print painted across their mouth to bring visible awareness to the ongoing genocide of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People for National Day of Mourning 2021.
MMIWG2S Visibility 2021

Buried Truths Unearthed

People taught me the same lies of edited history as they taught to my classmates. I saw my Indigenous ancestors through stereotyped lenses. Something did always feel misinformed to me. Yet, I was far from aware of the depth of it. So, I buried my feelings. I played along with everything I was taught. Because, how could so many of my teachers be wrong? My discovering of the truth behind “Thanksgiving” was not easy nor pleasant. However, the validation of my feelings brought me some relief.

Picture of the leafless branches of a solemn dark tree. The background is of a grey-blue sky.
Solemn Tree by Rimakej Valentini.

History Forms Day of Mourning

Most people consider the “first Thanksgiving” to be an event that wasn’t even called such. The Pilgrims fired guns and cannons for their harvest celebration during this time. These shots prompted some of the people of the Wampanoag Nation to investigate. This is the only reason tales exist of Native Americans being present at that celebration.

John Winthrop proclaimed the first official “Day of Thanksgiving” in 1637. This was to celebrate the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women, and children. Numerous other “Thanksgiving Days” then followed. These feasts celebrated the enslavement and murders of countless Native Americans, including bounties paid for their scalps and heads. President George Washington was even compelled to suggest celebrating only one day per year due to the growing numbers of these “Thanksgivings”. However, the genocide behind these numerous feasts was not addressed and only continued. Even President Abraham Lincoln later decreed a national “Thanksgiving” holiday after he ordered troops to march against the starving Dakota in Minnesota.

Celebration Reform

The celebration of the theft of Nature’s blessings fueled the creation of the American “Thanksgiving” holiday. Theft from Indigenous people who endured murder, enslavement, and forced colonization. Therefore, I will not participate in this holiday. My choice is to observe National Day of Mourning. My choice is to support the personal and generational healing of my fellow Native American people and myself. Cristophe also offers his support and prayer by joining me in this observance.

Picture of Rimakej's hand lightly touching the surface of the water between three rocks in the River Dart.
Picture taken after floating offerings for National Day of Mourning 2020 in the River Dart in Totnes, Devon, UK.

I protest the celebration of the unjust history of the American “Thanksgiving” holiday. I also protest the spreading of offensive lies in an attempt to hide what really happened. However, I do support the reform of this holiday. I support people properly educating themselves and others of the true history behind it. I also support people acknowledging and working to end the wrongful sufferings of others. We end this suffering together through unity and truth.

Picture of Rimakej praying beside the water flowing out of the stone well built around the spring-fed Blue Hole in San Antonio, Texas, USA to honor a previous Native American Day of Mourning.
Honoring a previous National Day of Mourning at the Blue Hole in San Antonio, Texas, USA.

There is too much loss and sorrow to be expressed on National Day of Mourning. Properly giving ourselves the space, time, and energy to grieve so much loss is our focus of the day. But, you do not have to worry about our time to give thanks. Our celebration of Mabon (Fall Equinox) is the original and true time of Thanksgiving in line with Nature at the turning of the harvest season. This is when we continue our Indigenous Ancestors’ tradition of sharing our gratitude with the Universe.

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