A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

6.2: Re/Performing and Re/Claiming Native America

Re/Performing and Re/Claiming Native America:  Image Events in the Thanksgiving Day of Mourning Protest

Jason Edward Black, University of Alabama

Enculturation 6.2 (2009): http://enculturation.net/6.2/black

In a foundational movement study, John Sanchez and Mary Stuckey illuminated a crucial tension associated with American Indian protest rhetoric.  Eschewing the notion that indigenous agitation is only “directed at movement members and other Indians for the purposes of gathering the like-minded” they argued that Red Power rhetoric straddles a line between external and internal functions (Lake 128).  Such a combination of ends empowers American Indian [1] agitators to reawaken and strengthen indigenous identities while simultaneously appealing to dominant America for social change (Sanchez and Stuckey 120). 

Because both Natives and non-Natives often understand scantily the spaces and characters of indigenous communities, American Indian movements typically appeal to both audiences in order to preserve identities (Weaver 246).  Hence, Native rhetors seek to “educate non-American Indians about indigenous cultures and traditions” as a prologue “to any serious discussion of policy,” and yet must construct discourses that “are consistent with group interests” lest they “risk losing the support of their own people” (Sanchez and Stuckey 121).  The idea of blending internal and external functions into a protest rhetoric holds robust importance, especially when one considers that identity maintenance involves constituting a people and likewise “pitching” the people to a dominant public (see Gregg; Lake; Morris and Wander; Simons; and Stewart).        

Part of maintaining identities involves the performance of these identities in the public eye.  In the early Red Power movement, such performance involved occupying hallowed ground, such as the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and the once Native-owned Alcatraz Island, to reconnect with one’s Indianness (Lake; Morris and Wander; and Warrior).  According to Weaver, these early protests allowed American Indians “to see Native heritage as a valuable part of personal identity and as a foundation for pan-Indian solidarity” (246).  Contemporarily, the movement has campaigned to raise public awareness of traditional, accurate Indianness.   

As Hollywood depictions of the “spiritual, noble savage as the archetype of the Indian” continue garnering attention and prevalence, however, American Indian identities become performed in detrimental ways (Bird 105).  Hence, we find grossly inaccurate Plains Indian representations overshadowing the cultural character of Chief Osceola and the Seminole Tribe at Florida State University (Black 3).  Similarly, we find diminutive constructions of Indianness in films such as Disney’s Pocahontas, which portrays American Indians as children who commune with nature (thus displacing both adulthood and humanity) and as eternally quiescent to European-American demands (Ono and Buescher 35-36).  In order to contest negative or, in the least, imprecise depictions of Indianness, American Indian protest rhetoric challenges the spurious performances with culturally accurate performance through image events.  The custom of western-inspired constructions of Indianness is basically challenged through a side-by-side comparison of performing Native identities.  Performances and image events, then, allow American Indians to showcase “how they embody, reflect, and construct their own culture” (Fine and Speer 10).  Moreover, performance assists American Indians in re/claiming their identities by appealing to both internal and external audiences.

One such group that engages in performative rhetoric to secure its Indianness is the United American Indians of New England (UAINE).  The UAINE organizes annual Thanksgiving Day protests at Plymouth Rock to “right the wrongs” of the American myth regarding the Pilgrim’s landing and their subsequent and so-called “brotherly” treatment of America’s indigenous inhabitants.  As the group puts it, “Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of people, the theft of [our] lands, and the relentless assault on [our] culture” (UAINE “Plaques”).  What began as a dozen citizens of the Wampanoag Nation agitating against the Town of Plymouth has grown to a thousand-plus person, multi-national event called the National Day of Mourning.  Each year, UAINE employs internal (consummatory) and external (instrumental) tactics designed to unite American Indian communities through a sustained revival and to educate the broader American public about the travesties brought forth by the Pilgrims. 

In what follows, I examine how the UAINE employs performance through the Day of Mourning protests and how such performances mark a blending of consummatory and instrumental ends in contemporary American Indian protest.  I argue that the UAINE engages in performances to re/claim American Indian identities by challenging dominant American conceptions of Indianness.  This notion of “protesting performance with performance” (Miller 191) manifests in UAINE’s use of both internal and external functions in its Day of Mourning image events. [2]



Consummatory Rhetoric, Instrumentality, and Native Performance of the Image Event

The consummatory function in social change and protest movements has long been a part of the rhetorical tradition.  As early as 1971, for instance, Richard Gregg noted the importance of the ego-function in “establishing, defining, and affirming one’s self-hood as one engages in a rhetorical act” (75).  His idea that rhetoric could help constitute identities was later extended by Kohrs Campbell who examined how the Black Nationalist Movement of the 1960s differed from the mainstream Civil Rights Movement by focusing not on persuading the dominant public but rather on building African-American community (“Rhetoric of Black Nationalism”).  Following suit, Lake “found that the purpose of Native American protest rhetoric was not the instrumental one of influencing whites but the constitutive one of reconstituting the traditional Native American and their ways of life” (Lake 128).  Ultimately, Lake argued that the American Indian Movement (AIM) directed its protest rhetoric inwardly in the hopes of supporting and protecting indigenous identity by “engaging in a ritual self-address” (142, emphasis mine).

The instrumental function gained prominence in the social change research of Herbert Simons who, in 1970, concluded that movements “mobilize for action to implement a program for the reconstitution” not of self-identity, but of dominant “social norms and values” (2).  Entrenched in his conception of social movement is an emphasis on reducing rhetoric to its instrumentality in order to serve the socio-political ends of social protest (DeLuca 28).  Such sociological ends, according to Stewart’s 1980 program of movement studies, involve “prescribing courses of action” that present a “social movement’s list of demands and solutions that will alleviate a condition, prevent undesired changes, or bring on the millennium or utopia” (170).  Stewart’s theory of instrumentality focuses on those movements seeking legitimacy from, and demands of, a dominant public.  In this vein, instrumental rhetoric concerns itself not with constructing identity per se, but rather with how movements are able to “explain, defend, and sell its program for change” (Stewart 170).    

Recently, Kevin DeLuca shattered the stark and stagnant boundaries of consummatory and instrumental functions in protest rhetoric.  As he argues, modern agitation blends the two functions illuminating how movements “reconstitute the identity of the dominant culture by challenging and transforming mainstream societies key discourses and ideographs” (16).  In the process, movement discourse constitutes consummatory identities.  Ostensibly, DeLuca notes a symbiotic relationship between the two functions.  That is, while instrumentality helps solidify a movement identity, constitutive rhetoric concurrently assists in persuading the dominant public to enact change.  This blending invokes a "perspective by incongruity" that violates the “properties of the words [consummatory and instrumental] in its previous linkages” (Burke, Permanence and Change 90).  Hence, the symbiosis unites the two by blurring the terms.

DeLuca contends that “performance” brings about the merging of consummatory and instrumental functions in order to enact the most effective identity maintenance and social change.  He suggests that a movement identity “is the ongoing effect of social discourses, a product constituted within the matrix of linguistic and material social practices” (DeLuca 134).  For instance, because American Indian identities cannot be fully represented in linguistic, oral or visual termsfor, indeed, part of indigenous identity is performative (see Miller; Sanchez and Stuckey; Weaver)they must be symbolized in alternative and illustrative fashions.  The subject of identity “is not a content, but a performance, a happening born, existing, and transformed” through movement discourses (DeLuca 134). 

Contemporary American Indian groups find themselves in a unique position concerning the performance of their identities.  Through Hollywood representations of the Wild West and frontier Indian (e.g., the “bloodthirsty savage”) along with the increased popularity of sports mascots, non-Natives concurrently perform an inauthentic type of indigenous identity.  Sanchez and Stuckey contend that non-Natives “have always seen American Indians through lenses that have more to do with the creation and maintenance of non-American Indian identities than with the realities of American Indian experiences” (126).  American Indian image events, then, typically outperform non-Native performances, teaching mainstream America, in the process, the accurate cultural history and characteristics of Native America.  

Absent the countering of performance with performance, Elizabeth Bird worries that non-Native conceptions of Native identity will eclipse more precise indigenous culture.  As she asserts, “White people have also been playing Indian for a century or more . . . contemporary Indian life is rarely represented” (105-106).  Anti-mascot scholars King and Springwood agree, arguing that mascots dehumanize Native nations by replacing their cultures with nonspecific imagesthe only images dominant society sees: “Native American mascots misappropriate sacred ideas and objects . . . they misuse and misunderstand elements of Native American cultures. Importantly, since many Euro-Americans encounter Native Americans only as mascots and moving images, these unreal Indians materialize the most base images of Native Americans” (7).  Hence, contemporary American Indian protest engages in policy changes and internal cultural maintenance but does so through the performance of identities.  This makes the task of protest difficult, for American Indians “must first overcome those misperceptions in order to even begin their persuasive task” (Sanchez and Stuckey 126).  On the other hand, the exigence of the non-Native performance allows “some American Indians the opportunity to reshape those images” (Sanchez and Stuckey 126-127).


Analysis: Performance and the Day of Mourning

The Day of Mourning protest began in 1970 when Wampanoag activist Wamsutta Frank James was asked to participate in Massachusetts’ 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ Plymouth landing.  Spurning the organizers’ request to speak favorably of Pilgrim-Native relations, James crafted a vilification of Plymouth, the Pilgrims, and Thanksgiving.  In his speech manuscript, he noted “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” (Wamsutta James).  Requesting a draft of his remarks prior to the event, anniversary organizers strategically revoked their invitation based on James’ alleged inflammatory interpretation.  Seeking an outlet for his address, James and a group of like-minded American Indian protestors met at Plymouth Rock to speak their minds, “spit on the Rock,” and march in disapproval of having their history suppressed in favor of what they deemed a white-washed “American myth” of brotherhood and community (James and Munro).  They decided to stage an image event to garner not only media attention but support from the community; they were almost certainly searching for Native and non-Native legitimizers (James and Munro).

In subsequent years, especially between 1971 and 1984, James and the Wampanoag Nation publicized their annual events, and soon activists from the American Indian Movement and people from various Native nations began journeying to Plymouth each year to protest and to “fight back on such issues as the racism of the Pilgrim mythology perpetuated in Plymouth” (UAINE “Background”).  European Americans also joined later protests.

The Pilgrim mythos against which UAINE agitates refers to the reverence extended the English settlers in Massachusetts.  The Massachusetts Pilgrims landed on “Plymouth Rock” in 1620 and immediately set about claiming land, colonizing Native populations, and bivouacking their “City on a Hill” as a model of “civilization” (Bradford).  According to James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz, Americans mostly remember the Pilgrims around Thanksgiving time and refer to them when speaking of the so-called mores associated with the American Puritanism myth.  The Pilgrims are, for the most part, “a quasi-mythic group of people who are looked upon today as the founders of America, and whose dedication to hard work and noble purposes” fomented the roots of what would become the U.S. nation (Deetz and Deetz 1). 

The Pilgrim story was, perhaps, elevated to “myth” when in 1820 the Pilgrim Society was established in Plymouth to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Mayflower’s landing.  The event was commemorated with a national celebration, the establishment of Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth (supposedly one of America’s oldest museums), and a nationally renowned address delivered by Daniel Webster that “extolled the virtues of the Pilgrims as vital to nineteenth century America” (Deetz and Deetz 2).  Therefore, America experienced renewed interest in the Thanksgiving holiday, increased literary attention to the Pilgrim myth thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem "The Courtship of Myles Standish," and the re-release of the Mayflower Compact and William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation.  Seemingly, the culminating effect of these events and the rise of nineteenth century American nationalism gave way to the canonization of the Pilgrims as a good, godly, and germinal people.

Thanksgiving derived from this Pilgrim myth and entailed an amicable harvest festival of sorts held between the Wampanoag Nation and the Pilgrims.  American Indians, however, note the white-washed tenor of this tale.  According to their historical account, Thanksgiving was based on a successful raid against the Pequot Nation in 1641.  At that time, the Dutch and English Pilgrims combined forces to eliminate Native threats to new communities developing along the New England seaboard. The resulting Pequot War gave rise to the European American celebration of Thanksgiving following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, in which Plymouth “celebrated victory over the heathen savages” (Deetz and Deetz 2-3).  It is within this social milieuthe contested story of the Pilgrim’s amicability and concern for American Indiansthat the UAINE stages its Day of Mourning image event.  UAINE finds contemporary fodder for protest in that the Pilgrim Society continues to celebrate the Plymouth landing with its Pilgrims Progress Parade along with an array of annual events honoring Pilgrim culture, heritage, and actions.


Day of Mourning Protests

The UAINE has performed its Day of Mourning protests each year since Wamsutta James’ 1970 event.  Over the course of over three decades, the protest has not changed much in substance.  The revitalized histories taught and identities re/situated are revisited at each gathering.  Moreover, UAINE enacts the same counter-marches, historical displays, and occasional take-overs that James first suggested in the mid-1970s.  

Communication technologies, of course, have impacted the ways in which UAINE both recruits its members and promotes the Day of Mourning image events.  The group’s website allows interested persons from across the nation to learn more about the Day of Mourning protest and, more generally, about UAINE.  In addition, UAINE’s availability via its website and the ease of electronic channels have assisted the group in interacting with the news mediaboth mainstream outlets such as USA Today and The Boston Globe as well as independent and “alternative” channels such as Workers World newspaper and The Humanist magazine. 

Another change in the image event at Plymouth has involved institutional rhetoric of control. Since 1998 the Plymouth police department has “cracked down” on the image event tactic of the take-over by guarding Pilgrim icons like the Mayflower replica and by placing grates atop the Plymouth Rock monument (Baltimore Independent Media Center).  In a 1998 injunction hearing, UAINE promised the Town of Plymouth that it would not seize public monuments dedicated to the Pilgrims.  As a show of good faith, Plymouth erected a plaque to commemorate Wamsutta James and his Day of Mourning speech from 1970.

For the most part, tourists visiting the parade, Plymouth residents, and the American Indian (and non-Native) protestors themselves view the image event.  The news mediatypically The Boston Globe, USA Today and CNN along with a smattering of independent outletsattend the event and report on its happenings.  A longitudinal analysis of newspaper coverage of the Day of Mourning protest, however, reveals that fewer articles have been written about the event over time.[3] The reduction of coverage might correspond to the public’s expectations that UAINE will appear and replicate its image event annually.  Nothing in the longitudinal analysis of newspaper coverage of the Day of Mourning event reveals that the public is “shocked,” though public outrage was expressed in 1996 when Plymouth Rock was painted red to symbolize the UAINE’s support of “red power” (Workers World).      

During each Thanksgiving holidayspecifically during Plymouth’s Pilgrims Progress Parademembers of UAINE perform the re/claiming of their identity in myriad ways through the Day of Mourning protests.  One such way is through resistance to the Plymouth Pilgrims Progress celebrations and “take over” of the infamous “Plymouth Rock,” land the Wampanoag Nation claims as its original homeland.  Akin to the American Indian Movement’s image events at Alcatraz in 1969, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1972, and Wounded Knee in 1973all of which involved the “spiritual reclamation of ancient Indian lands”UAINE possesses the land of its ancestors every Thanksgiving Day (Warrior 71; see also Josephy, Nagel, and Johnson; Lake; Morris and Wander; and Sanchez and Stuckey).  The performance of American Indian identities in this case assists in reuniting indigenous peoples with one area of their spiritual homeland. Moreover, the performance of the “take-over” acts as a pan-Indian revival, whereby American Indians renew their communitarian principles of family and togetherness. 

Thus, the Day of Mourning image event manifests, in part, through the taking over of communal Native territory.  As the UAINE says of its image events: “An annual tradition since 1970, the Day of Mourning is a solemn, spiritual and highly political day. . . .  We are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands. It is a day when we mourn, but we also feel strength in community action” (UAINE “Orientation”).   The group continues that over the years, protestors have “buried Plymouth Rock a number of times, boarded the Mayflower replica, and placed Ku Klux Klan sheets on the statue of William Bradford” (UAINE “Orientation”).  These take-overs arise as a renewal of indigenous identities, demonstrating to the internal Native audience that the land of Plymouth is theirs regardless of who holds “Massachusetts land title” (Thomet).  James noted in 1970an oft repeated message read at each year’s Day of Mourning protest“We the descendents of the great Sachem Massasoit [a seventeenth-century Wampanoag shaman] have been a silent people.” He continued, “today, I and many of my people are choosing to face the truth” and through the re/claiming of Plymouth Rock and its grounds “we face the truth that we ARE Indians!” (Wamsutta James).  UAINE performances bond Native culture to land, thus reinvigorating cultural agency.

Interestingly, American Indian identities supported at the Day of Mourning event involve the “warrior.”  The UAINE does not sit idly and harmoniously by but rather vigorously challenges the material symbols of European America through its image events.  This ironychallenging white performance of Native identities as “savage” with American Indians’ own performances of “savagery”can be explained with Burke’s notion of frames of rejection.  Such a frame “is but a by-product of ‘acceptance.’ It involves primarily a matter of emphasis. It takes its color from an attitude towards some reigning symbol of authority, stressing a shift in the allegiance to symbols of authority” (Attitudes Toward History 20).  UAINE seems to accept its own “savage” performance as authentic, but rejects Europeans calling these performances “savage.”  The acceptance/rejection shifts depending on who labels whom during cultural exchanges.  UAINE argues that the right of naming Native America extends to Natives communities alone. 

Specifically, the UAINE covers Plymouth Rock with dirt to symbolize a spiritual burial of European America and, on occasion, has painted the rock red to symbolize the color of Red Power. According to the UAINE, “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 the liberated Alcatraz Island during the AIM protest in 1969. The roots of Red Power protests have always been firmly embedded in the ‘soil of militant protest’” (“Background”).  It is no coincidence, then, that the UAINE focuses on its heritage and communitarian values “firmly imbedded in our soil” (UAINE “Statement,” emphasis mine).  Indeed, Plymouth’s soil represents the physical and spiritual home to which American Indians are welcome to return each November.  Moonanum James noted in his 1999 Day of Mourning Address, “Today, for a few hours, we are gathered here in liberated territory.  Our very presence frees this land from the lies of the history books, the profiteers, and the mythmakers. We will remember and honor all of our ancestors in struggle who went before us. We will speak truth to power.” The image event not only frees the land, but also unites American Indian communities in familialismand on common and safe groundagainst the “history books” and “mythmakers” (James “29th National Day of Mourning”).    

In another consummatory move, the UAINE educates American Indian youth about the honor and heritage within indigenous communities and the troubles of European conquest and so-called discovery of North America.  A Workers World account of the 1995 Day of Mourning protest notes an intriguing strategy geared toward teaching the youth about the “ills” the Pilgrims brought forth on the shores of the New World.

Children were invited to come forward and take a swing at racism by striking a Pilgrim piñata. Once the piñata was broken open, the children found inside symbols of the oppression that the pilgrims had brought with them: money, police badges, toy soldiers, handcuffs, and chains representing the enslavement of American Indians. (1)

Here, American Indian children are taught, through a playful performance, that the problems facing Native identity are not the fault of their communities, but of the selfish and authoritarian actions of the Pilgrims; this children’s performance remains part and parcel to the overall Day of Mourning protest, hence linking the next generation of indigenous people to the 30-plus year history of the image event. 

At the same time, UAINE educates its children about Native customs, the need to learn indigenous languages and religions, and to embrace tightly their American Indianness.  Navajo James Watson notes that the Day of Mourning gathering allows elders to speak to Native children about an indigenously centered life.  He and others attempt to “right the wrongs” of U.S.-Indian relations history (in De Costa-Fernandez).  Wamsutta James reminded children throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s that their culturalism was not waning, but growing. “Our spirit refuses to die . . .  we are uniting. . . . We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we’ll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us” (1).  The UAINE performances at Plymouth counter the U.S.-sponsored education of American Indian children.  Morris argues that State-sanctioned Native schools have historically convinced “red children” that “if the old ways are bad, as the strategies of acculturation insist they are, and if the new ways are good . . . then the only way for the student to be or become ‘good’ is through erasure” (162).  UAINE connects with children to reinvigorate Native identities and to place the onus of acting “badly” not on some savage identity but on white atrocities.  “There is a whole different side of the story people don’t want to hear about,” contends Wampanoag Ananda Robinson.  “It’s important to realize the other side is a somber and sad side” (in Lazar).  UAINE co-leader Mahtowin Munro concurs, “Children should be proud of who they are and skeptical of what they learn in school” (in Thomet 1).  Another way, then, to re/claim identities is to re/educate the next generations about the honor, pride, and respect inhering in American Indiannessall within public view during the staged Day of Mourning image event.

Furthermore, the UAINE performs a re/claiming of its identity through the construction of Native-friendly histories.  Native-centered histories of events, from the Columbian contact of the fifteenth century and the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn and the Termination/Relocation era of the 1950s and 1960s, comprise these re/constitutions. American Indians craft adjusted histories for both Native and non-Native audiences.  The histories are performed at the Day of Mourning image event through speeches; dioramic displays of indigenous crafts, food, and artifacts; and stage plays performing competing versions of the Thanksgiving and Pilgrim stories that work to challenge these myths.   Wampanoag Russell Peters argues that “history is not a set of truths to be memorized; history is on ongoing process of interpretation and learning. . . . There is room for more than one history; there is room for many voices” (Peters).   Indeed, UAINE concentrates on espousing this re/claimed history of U.S.-Native relationships.  It claims that every year “Native people from throughout the Americas will speak the truth about our history and about current issues and struggles we are involved in” (UAINE “Thanksgiving”). 

The reassessment of the Thanksgiving holiday is, of course, the cornerstone of the Day of Mourning event.  In describing the “accurate” events of the first Thanksgiving, Moonanum James educates internal (American Indian and Native-friendly) and external (news media, general public, governmental publics) audiences at the annual Day of Mourning protest about the American Indian interpretation of the Pilgrim myth.  James claims “Indians were not invited by the Pilgrims who considered our people to be devils. No turkey, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie was served.” In fact, the Pilgrims built an “11-foot high wall around the entire Plymouth settlement for the purpose of keeping the Indians out” (James “29th National Day of Mourning”).  Similarly, the UAINE argues that the only true part of the Pilgrim myth is that “these pitiful European strangers would not have survived their first several years in New England were it not for the Wampanoag people” (UAINE “Background”).  By exploding the Pilgrim myth, James and UAINE perform a revitalized character of Indianness.  Instead of performing the “role of a people massacred” and oppressed, American Indians are elevated to savior-like and emancipatory status.  Interestingly, UAINE shifts its acceptance or rejection of the “oppressed” label depending on the narrative.  For instance, when seeking laurels for its bravery and resistive ethos, the group rejects being labeled “oppressed.” On the other hand, when sympathy and empathy are sought, images of genocide and institutional racism are accepted to vilify further European America (James “29th National Day of Mourning”).

The Native-centered Thanksgiving history arises through numerous demonstrations staged during the Day of Mourning image event.  Randy Joseph, Chief of the Old Plimoth Indian Tribes, annually erects a traditional Wampanoag tent, as opposed to a Plains Indian tepee, to exhibit what the Pilgrims might have encountered when they landed in Massachusetts.  Joseph and others also represent Native cultures by involving both internal and external audiences in performing the event. According to one news account, “visitors saw Indian crafts, signed a petition to establish a national holiday to recognize the contributions of American Indians to the Thanksgiving holiday, and ate samples of traditional food including duck, corn, beans, and venison” (in Mathewson).  Joseph couches this shared performance in the telling of a story that “[w]hen the Pilgrims came off the ship in the harbor here, it was a cold day just like today. . . . Our people said, ‘Come into our camp for some warmth and food.’ They said, ‘we’ll work out our issues together.’  That’s what we’re saying here today” (Joseph in Mathewson).  Notice how Joseph’s construction of American Indians involves neither the “savage brutality” inherent in Westernized visions of the “red man” (Ono and Buescher) nor Native “stupidity” supposedly “discovered” by the Pilgrims (Bird).  Instead, American Indians are depicted as amicable and innovative.  “This is the spirit of Thanksgiving,” UAINE member Norman Brown says. “This is a time for healing ourselves as a country. Always remember us as an original people!” (in Crittenden).  Here, UAINE’s frame of acceptance allows for a friendly and stoic identity. The revisions, claims Moonanum James, help perform a “correct history and does so in a country that glorifies butchers . . . and even carves their faces into the sacred Black Hills of the Lakota” (“29th National Day of Mourning”).

From an instrumental perspective, UAINE agitates for the end of the Puritan Progress Parade and the Town of Plymouth’s annual celebration of Miles Standish and William Bradford.  Part of this “functional approach” (see Stewart) involves protesting the Plymouth Rock plaque “that is a monument to racism and oppression” (UAINE “Thanksgiving”).  Another function includes mobilizing against other national celebrations of European conquest (e.g., Columbus Day).  Moonanum James asserts that, “We will not give thanks for the European invasion of our country. We will not celebrate the theft of our ands and the genocide of our people. We will not sing and dance to please the tourists who come here seeking a Disneyland version of history” (“29th National Day of Mourning”).  Furthermore, the UAINE argues against these myths “served up with dollops of European superiority and Manifest Destiny.”  The old inaccurate story “simply just does not work for many people in this country. . . . ‘We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.’ EXACTLY!” (UAINE “Thanksgiving”).  UAINE agitates to refashion this myth making, and to bring to public consciousness the American Indian reality concerning the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth: what Moonanum James says is “disease, plunder, and annihilation” (“29th National Day of Mourning”).  

UAINE similarly seeks to prevent contemporary celebrations of Pilgrim atrocities enacted against American Indians.  Such a celebrations, it proclaims, leaves out the notion that “Our lands were invaded. . . . We were conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many cases and wards of the United States government” (Wamsutta James).  Glorifying the Pilgrims also looks past the possibility that “Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture” (UAINE “Plaques”).  The UAINE worries that the celebrations presented by the Pilgrim Society construct American Indians as “savage, illiterate and uncivilized animals” and likewise perform the Thanksgiving re-enactment as if Native peoples were treated fairly and equally (Wamsutta James).  Mahtowin Munro reminds the white descendents of Standish and Bradford that “Native people have certainly not lived happily ever after since the arrival of the Pilgrims. Thanksgiving is a day of mourning because we remember the millions of our ancestors who were murdered by European colonists, particularly the Puritans” (in De Costa-Fernandez).  Thus, the UAINE performs its strength, honor and heritage each year in Plymouth to educate Natives and non-Natives about the Pilgrim atrocities, but also to show that contemporary American Indians have beaten the odds.  “We still have the spirit, we still have our unique culture, we still have the will, and most of all, we still have the determination to be Indian” (Wamsutta James).  Such a performance invigorates Native community, while concurrently conveying to mainstream America the resiliency and unwavering character of its indigenous neighbors.  If Native America can survive despite disease, removal, infantilization, and genocide, insinuates Moonanum James, then in the “Spirit of Crazy Horse and Geronimo we are not vanishing; we are not conquered; we are as strong as ever!” (“32nd National Day of Mourning”).  


Implications:  Performative Rhetoric and Protest

            This essay has examined the ways in which the UAINE protests at Plymouth re/claim Native identities by performing indigenous cultures at the Day of Mourning image events.  Such performances involve internal, consummatory functions such as repossessing American Indian land and educating Native youth, as well as the instrumental functions of revising U.S.-Indian Thanksgiving histories and attempting to abolish the Pilgrim Society’s events.  While these performances may be sorted into the two rhetorical functions, I agree with DeLuca that modern agitation blends the two functions revealing how movements concomitantly build internal community and “reconstitute the identity of the dominant culture by challenging and transforming mainstream societies’ key discourses” (16).  The blending classifies as a  “perspective by incongruity” that eliminates the hierarchy of the linguistic categories of consummatory and instrumental rhetorics (see Burke, Permanence and Change; Burke, Attitudes Toward History).

This study points to ways American Indian protest serves the dual function of building community and agitating for societal change.  The re/claiming of Indianness demands that such identity be performed to demonstrate to both Natives and non-Natives the accuracy of the American Indian experience.  Similarly, these performed identities seek to confront so-called “false performances” of Native identities as a requisite to institutional change (Bird 110).

Another implication of UAINE’s Day of Mourning protests remains the way in which American Indian protest contemporarily functions.  Given the false depictions of the “Native way” in mascot culture (Black), through Hollywood constructions (Ono and Buescher), and within general popular culture (Weaver, Whitt), American Indian activists seek to perform their identities to challenge dominant visions of what it means to be Native.  As Sanchez and Stuckey argue, “While advocating sovereignty . . . (they) educate American Indians and non-American Indians alike, as well as the national government, and to constitute a new sort of American audience. They must establish a new justification, based on long-standing traditions, for American Indian political activism” (126).  American Indian groupslike the UAINEattempt to confront the negative stereotypes attributed them by American popular culture through the likes of John Wayne movies and red-faced apple crate advertisements of the 1930s and 1940s. 

Dominance resides in naming and co-opting a marginalized identity. Some argue that lumping variant groups into one essentialist package allows for easier suppression through appropriations of identities. Bosmaijian, for instance, claims “once one has been categorized through the language of suppression, one loses most of the power to determine one’s future and most of the control over one’s identity and destiny” (93). Identities are not lost, however, when indigenous groups are able re/claim what they say the Pilgrims took away: cultural traditions, Native language, earthly spirituality and, of course, territory.  The UAINE seeks continually to remind the American public that Native identities are situated within Native America, not in some caricatured version supported by the Thanksgiving myth. With this argument in mind, the UAINE educates both Native and non-Native audiences about what it meant to be “Indian” in 1620, and furthermore what it means to remain proud of being an “Indian” in the twenty-first century (Wamsutta James). The group does so by performing its customs and historical modifications through image events each Thanksgiving at Plymouth.


Works Cited

Baltimore Independent Media Center. “Come to Plymouth Rock on Spanksgiving.”

BIMC Protest Board (25 November 2004). 18 December 2005. http://baltimore.indymedia.org/newswire/display/8778/index.php

Bird, S. Elizabeth. “’Indians are Like That’: Negotiating Identity in a Media World.” Black Marks: Minority Ethnic Audiences and Media. Eds. Ross and Playdon. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2001. 105-122.

Black, Jason Edward. “The ‘Mascotting’of Native America: Construction, Commodity, and Assimilation.” American Indian Quarterly 26:4 (2002): 605-622.

Bosmajian, Haig. “Defining the ‘American Indian’: A Case Study in the Language of Suppression.” Speech Teacher 21 (1973): 89-99.

Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation: Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement, 1608-1650.  New York: Vision Forum, 1999.

Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. 3d Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

___ . Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. 3d. Edition. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.

Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs.  “The Rhetoric of Black Nationalism: A Case Study in Self-Conscious Criticism.” Central States Speech Journal 22 (1971): 151-160.

Charland, Maurice. “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Quebecois.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 73 (1987): 133-150.

Crittenden, Jules. “Thanksgiving Rebuked, Celebrated at Plymouth.” Boston Herald  (24 November 2000): 006.

Da Costa-Fernandes, Manuela. “American Indians Stage Peaceful Thanksgiving Protest in Plymouth.” South Coast Today  (27 November 1998): A1.

Deetz, James, and Patricia Scott Dietz. The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony.  New York: Freeman and Company, 2000. 

DeLuca, Kevin Michael. Image Politics: The New Rhetoric of Environmental Activism. New York: Guilford, 1999.

Fine, Elizabeth, and Jean Haskell Speer.  Performance, Culture, and Identity. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1992.

Garroutte, Eva Marie. Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Gregg, Richard. “The Ego-Function of the Rhetoric of Protest.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 4 (1971): 71-91.

James, Moonanum.  “Speech at the 29th National Day of Mourning.” United American Indians of New England web site. 26 November 1998. http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

___ . “Speech at the 30th National Day of Mourning.” United American Indians of New England web site. 25 November 1999. http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

___ . “Speech at the 31st National Day of Mourning.” United American Indians of New England web site. 22 November 2001. http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

James, Moonanum, and Mahtowin Munro. “Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning for Indians.” United American Indians of New England web site. http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

James, Wamsutta Frank B. “The Suppressed Speech to Have Been Delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1970.”  United American Indians of New England web site. http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

Jensen, Robert. “Banning ‘Redskins’ From the Sports Page: The Ethics and Politics of American Nicknames.” Journal of Mass Media Ethics 9 (1994): 16-25.

Josephy, Alvin, Joanne Nagel, and Troy Johnson. The American Indians’ Fight for Freedom: Red Power. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

King, C. Richard, and Charles Fruehling Springwood. Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

Lake, Randall A. “Enacting Red Power: The Consummatory Function in Native American Protest Rhetoric.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 69 (1983): 127-142.

Lazar, Kay. “American Indians Gather to Mark Day of Mourning.” Boston Herald (29 November 2002): 005.

Mathewson, Charles. “Plymouth Offers Prayers and Protest.” Enterprise Magazine (29 November 2002): p.13.

McPhillips, Jody, and Tiffany Bartish. “Indians Observe Day of Mourning with Peaceful Protests.” Providence Journal-Bulletin (27 November 1998): 1A.

Mihesuah, Devon, ed. Natives and Academics: Writing About American Indians. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

Miller, Jackson B. “Indians, Braves, and Redskins: A Performative Struggle for Control of an Image.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 85 (1999): 188-202.

Monahan, John J. “Day of Thanks Only Historical Footnote; Indians Remember Greed, Not Bounty.” Telegram and Gazette (Worcester, MA)  (25 November 1998): A1.

Morris, Richard.  “Educating Savages.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 83 (1997): 152-171.

Morris, Richard, and Phillip Wander. “Native American Rhetoric: Dancing in the Shadows of the Ghost Dance.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 76 (1990): 164-191.

Ono, Kent, and Derek T. Buescher. “Deciphering Pocahontas: Unpackaging the Commodification of a Native American Woman.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 18 (2001): 23-48.

Peters, Russell M. “Comments of the Day of Mourning.” 14 July 1998. http://humanrightsonline.net/mourningday.html

Sanchez, John, and Mary E. Stuckey. “The Rhetoric of American Indian Activism in the 1960s and 1970s.”  Communication Quarterly 48 (2000): 120-136.

Simons, Herbert. “Requirements, Problems and Strategies: A Theory of Persuasion for Social Movements.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 56 (1970): 1-11.

Stewart, Charles. “A Functional Approach to Social Movements.” Readings on the Rhetoric of Social Protest. Eds. Charles Morris and Stephen Browne. State College, PA: Strata, 2001. 165-173. 

Thomet, Laurent. “For Protestors, A Holiday to Fight; American Indians in Plymouth Deride U.S. History.” Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA) (29 November 2002): 1.

Thornton, Russell, ed. Studying Native America: Problems and Prospects. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

United American Indians of New England.  “UAINE: Background Information.” United American Indians of New England web site. http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

___ . “Agreement Between the Town of Plymouth and the UAINE.” United American Indians of New England web site. http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

___ . “Statement of the UAINE.” United American Indians of New England web site. 19 October, 1998. http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

___ . “Text of Plaques.” United American Indians of New England web site. http//home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

___ .  “Orientation for 2002 National Day of Mourning.” United American Indians of New England web site. http://home.earthlink.net/~uainendom

Warrior, Robert Allen.  “Past and Present at Wounded Knee.” Media Studies Journal 11 (1997): 69-75.

Weaver, Hilary N. “Indigenous Identity: What Is It, and Who Really Has It?” American Indian Quarterly 25 (2001): 240-255.

Whitt, Laurie Anne. “Cultural Imperialism and the Marketing of Native America.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 19 (1995): 1-31.

Workers World. “Day of Mourning: Native Protest Stops Pilgrim’s Progress.” (12 December 1996).


Electronic Links

UAINE Website, http://www.uaine.org/

Wamsutta Frank James Speech (1970), http://www.uaine.org/

AmericanIndianSource Information, http://americanindiansource.com/mourningday.html

Pilgrim Hall’s Information, http://www.pilgrimhall.org/daymourn.htm

You Tube video of DOM 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBUTqekqawU

Southern Poverty Law Center Source, http://www.tolerance.org/teach/activities

American Indian Movement Information, http://www.aimovement.org/


[1] Throughout this chapter, I refer to Native people in North America as: American Indian, indigenous and Native, per the current trends in American Indian cultural studies. These designations, in particular, are accepted identity signifiers according to Garroutte; Mihesuah; and Thornton. Readers are encouraged to bear two precepts in mind. First, the proper designation of Native populations in North America remains controversial. Differences exist and divide sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and—most importantly— Native nations themselves. Second, due to the variant descriptors accepted/rejected, I am dedicated to integrating all three primary labels. Whenever possible, I will designate communities based on their national affiliation (e.g., Wampanoag Nation). Also, due to the importance of representing the contextual bedding of this chapter, I often quote sources that often refer to American Indians as “tribes,” “tribal” and “Indians” among other metonyms. Such labels arise from the texts of the particular milieu under investigation.

[2] The ensuing analysis examines how the UAINE engages in performance to re/claim its identity through its Day of Mourning protests. Textually, the UAINE performances are assessed through an investigation of the group’s white papers, speeches of UAINE leaders, and Native commentary surrounding the Day of Mourning event.  Methodologically, the essay reads these texts through the lens of constitutive rhetoric, a vital identity-builder that explains how “the people, in general, exist only through an ideological discourse that constitutes them” (Charland).  In addition, social movement criticismparticularly the consummatory and instrumental functions of social changecirculates throughout the analysis. 

[3] This longitudinal analysis studied accessed nearly 60 news articlesusing Lexis-Nexis, Academic Search Elite, and Ebsco media databasesfrom 1970 to 2007.