Nov. 24: National Day of Mourning

What the United States calls “Thanksgiving,” indigenous people call the National Day of Mourning.  In 1970, when the state of Massachusetts invited Frank James/Wamsutta (Mashpee Wampanoag) to speak, he hit them with this:

It 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.
             Even 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.
             Massasoit, 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.
             What 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.”
             And 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.

There’s more.  James’s full speech continues to be widely circulated on the internet, and on this day every year, the United American Indians of New England gather Native people together at Coles Hill, overlooking Plimoth Rock.


John Christian Hopkins and Trace DeMayer: 11-11-11 e-launch!

With a wink to today’s Mayan Apocalypse, John Christian Hopkins (Narragansett) and Trace DeMeyer (Shawnee/Cherokee) are launching an indigenous e-publishing effort.  DeMeyer’s new company, Blue Hand Books, is unveiling Hopkins’s latest novel, Twilight of the Gods, in electronic format.  Get it on your Kindle, or read it on your computer in Adobe.

Both journalists, Trace and John worked together in the early 2000s on the Pequot Times.  Since then, both have (mainly self-published) interesting books.  One Small Sacrifice (2010) is Trace’s brave and heart-wrenching account of her experience, all too common in Indian country, of being adopted out of her Native community.  (NPR recently ran a much-praised series on the continued widespread removal of Native children from their homes, in direct violation of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act).

John has also written about painful Native histories, but parlayed these into imaginative genre fiction.  Carlomagno (2003) made the son of Wampanoag leader Metacom, sold into slavery in the West Indians, into a dashing, swashbuckling pirate.  Nacogdoches (2004) brought the Ringo Kid to a small racist Texas town ruled by Boss Kilgore.  In Twilight of the Gods, now, it looks like the paranormal has caught his attention.  I asked John a few questions about the book (you can find a more extensive interview–and more information about e-publishing for indigenous authors–at the Blue Hand Books link to the right):

S: What prompted you to publish this book electronically?

J: I jumped at the idea of working with Trace DeMeyer, a friend whom I have great respect for, on her Blue Hand Books venture. I’ve been reading how ebooks are the future and been thinking of a way to get involved in that.

S: What’s the book about?

J: Jaded tabloid reporter Napoleon Marquard is off to the Pine Ridge reservation to cover what he sure is a fake “unicorn.” But mysterious events start coming to light from across the globe; reports of savage monsters, hideous beings and “gods” from every civilization throughtout time. The more Marquard learns about the Mayan Long Count Calendar, the more he believes the world is facing theend of days — the Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods!

S:  That’s wild!  Each of your novels has been so inventive and different–a swashbuckling tale of King Philip’s son on the Spanish Main; an anti-racist Western; and now a fantasy novel.  Have you tried mainstream publishers, and if so, why do you think they haven’t been more receptive?
J:  I can paper a house with the rejections from traditional publishers! I’ve come so close to being published, but it always seemed to come apart for some silly reason beyond my control. A manuscript that I haven’t published yet deals with King Philip’s War. A now-defunct publisher liked it, asked to see theentire manuscript and then rejected it because they said the names of my Indian characters sounded too fake, “like a John Wayne western” they said. Ironically I pointed out to them that I am a descendant of the main character, King Ninigret. But they made up their minds. The main Indian characters were all real people. Another publisher sent a western out for a peer review and they voted 2-1 against publishing it — and both cited the same reason, a lack of footnotes! I told them it was a work of fiction, but no one listened. It seems like publishers make up the rules as they go and for whatever reason I always seem to fall through the cracks.