The following op-ed by Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell appears in the November 24, 2011 edition of the Cape Cod Times.
By CEDRIC CROMWELL
November 24, 2011
It’s fair to say that when the Wampanoag and Plymouth colonists gathered for the settlers’ first harvest feast in the fall of 1621 they had no idea a Hallmark holiday was to be inspired. But the only primary reference to the event, an entry in the writings of Edward Winslow hardly longer than a Facebook post, was not lost on President Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863 proclaimed an annual day of thanks in the likeness of grateful Pilgrims and gullible Indians. We can thank Norman Rockwell for staging a gleeful, wide-eyed family around a feast of fixings, pies and an oversized and perfectly roasted bird on a fine linen tablecloth.
As a result, across the nation people will be gathering with their families today to give thanks for their blessings. Blessings occur every day as the Creator casts his light upon us, giving us another opportunity to bask in its glory, but symbolically it has become the custom for America to bank its cumulative gratitude for this day in large part due to a curious act of humanity by the Wampanoag to a shipload of strangers who came to occupy their territory.
It is that significance that gives us pause as Wampanoag to remember the sacrifices of our ancestors and acknowledge the ongoing struggles of native people today. Since the arrival of the Mayflower nearly 400 years ago, our people have been challenged to simply endure in a climate of unapologetic cultural genocide, from King Philip’s War, to the Trail of Tears, to Wounded Knee (1890 and 1973), and the injustice of the Carcieri decision that continues to hold the recovery of our ancestral homelands at arm’s length.
But from the start they have underestimated the strength and spirit of the Wampanoag and other indigenous people across Turtle Island.
For that we do have gratitude and say kutaputash, primarily to the ancestors who persevered so we could live to fight another day, and then to our elders for their wisdom and guidance, and to the next generation poised to inherit the mantle of the Wampanoag that is both daunting and divine.
It is a mantle heavy with loss and sorrow, but buoyant with the pride and determination bred in us for nearly 13,000 years. It is up to us to preserve that mantle with the same traditional integrity and goodwill that once betrayed us when we could not find the strength in unity to uphold it. It is up to us to write the next chapter of our history.
At this crossroad we are a witness to the power of our sovereignty and what the future can hold if we can bind ourselves together in unity to protect our birthright even while there are still those who have not given up on our genocide. It is time for us to remember that we are all a part of the fabric that is that mantle. We are the pride, the strength and the unity that makes it strong.
In the coming year, this fabric will be beset with challenges by those looking for the fray. There can be no fray. We can disagree and challenge each other with the same veracity that we love and laugh with each other so long as we keep it inside our circle where we can tend our own wounds and celebrate our victories.
We need to band together like the herring rushing from the sea, swimming against the current on the Mashpee River to deliver their precious new life to fertile grounds in Wakeby Pond. To succeed they don’t go alone, or in small groups, but in a mass so great as to blacken the river and proceed impervious to threats.
As we begin our journey on the river toward true economic sovereignty and self-reliance — to preserve this proud mantle for the next generation — the greatest power and the greatest threat we face is among ourselves. Swim together in the cloak of unity.