PLYMOUTH, England – Four hundred years ago, a small group of English Puritans arrived in Massachusetts, a voyage that set the wheels in motion for the creation of the United States of America as we know it.
For the first time ever, Native Americans will also be given a voice in the years-long Mayflower commemoration, which launched on Thursday with events that will build up towards the big day: 16 September 2020.
“We are grateful to have been invited to contribute our historical and cultural knowledge to this commemoration unencumbered by centuries of marginalization and uncensored by contemporary event planners,” Paula Peters, representative of the Advisory Wampanoang Committee, told Efe.
The Wampanoag natives were the ones who received the approximately 100 passengers who traveled on the Mayflower ship from Plymouth to the New World.
The pilgrims were a branch of Puritans, who hailed from the Dutch city of Leiden where they had been forced to flee, and joining them aboard the Mayflower were merchants and adventurers.
When they arrived on the east coast of America in 1620, they found a land ravaged by diseases that previous European colonizers had brought to the continent with them.
The pilgrims had no food and scarce knowledge of hunting, planting and fishing techniques.
It was the indigenous communities who taught the British how to survive.
Half of them died within six months arriving.
Those that did survive learned how to tend to the lands and crops in ways they had not seen before.
But the civil coexistence and sharing of knowledge ended when the settlers started to persecute and repress the indigenous community that had safeguarded their survival.
By 1630, natives became the minority within their own lands.
Clashes ensued and a war triggered by King Philip saw Indian inhabitants of New England and colonizers fighting between 1675-1678.
For Adrian Viken, director of the Mayflower commemoration, the fact British colonizers are considered the founding fathers of the United States is just a fragment of the country’s history, which he said is much richer and more complex.
Before arriving in the New World, the religious pilgrims adopted a political system, appointed a governor and a legal code known as the Mayflower Compact – considered a precursor to the 1787 United States Constitution.
The bloody wars and the forced evangelizing to which colonizers submitted natives cannot be ignored in the narrative of the Mayflower commemorations, Viken added.
“The story of how the colonizers quickly forgot their manners is the one that has been marginalized,” Peters lamented, who described as a “terrible irony” that the pilgrims, the target of religious persecution, were not tolerant of the natives’ spiritual beliefs.
The Wampanoag committee advisor recalled that while present-day Americans celebrate Thanksgiving for the indigenous people of North America it is a day of national mourning.
For these communities, the arrival of English tribes paved the way to destruction.
The National Day of Mourning first began in 1970, when a member of the Wampanoag tribe, Wamsutta Frank James, gave a speech at a state dinner to mark the Mayflower’s 350th anniversary.
Frank James refused to sing the praises of colonizers.
To do justice to the true historic significance and legacy of the journey the full story needs to be acknowledged – not just the pilgrims’ journey to the Americas on the Mayflower, Vikens said.