From a Bishop's Desk

A series of opinion articles and essays from bishop's of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and ecumenical partners.


Day of Mourning Reflection

Dec 10, 2023

A “Thanksgiving” Like No Other (For Me)


This past November 23rd, instead of Marianne and me spending time with family for the traditional Thanksgiving holiday, we were invited, along with two colleague bishops (Bishop Bill Gohl of the Delaware-Maryland Synod and Bishop Becca Middeke-Conlin of our partner Arkansas Oklahoma Synod), by Jennifer DeLeon, Director of Racial Justice for the ELCA, to be present at the “Day of Mourning” in Patuxet (Plymouth), Massachusetts. This event is sponsored by United American Indians of the Northeast (UAINE). Ms. DeLeon made it clear that we were invited to be participant observers and listeners. In light of this, I came with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
And learn I did! While the day was certainly about the negative impact of European settlement on the indigenous people and land of Turtle Island (the native designation for what we call North America), it was so much more. In UAINE’s own words (http://www.uaine.org/):
Since 1970, Indigenous people & their allies have gathered at noon on Cole's Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native people do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims & other European settlers. Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands and the erasure of Native cultures. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Indigenous ancestors and Native resilience. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection, as well as a protest against the racism and oppression that Indigenous people continue to experience worldwide.

The gathering began with an indigenous prayer service (chanting, drumming, burning of sage) and then speakers shared their perspective on the day. The speakers included Kisha James, whose grandfather, Wamsutta Frank James (Wampanoag), began the Day of Mourning 54 years ago when the speech he planned to give at a banquet celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing at Plymouth was censored. Instead, he and a group of supporters gathered on Cole’s Hill across from Plymouth Rock where he shared the speech. Ms. James told the crowd of this history and the ongoing struggle of indigenous people to preserve their culture and traditions and reclaim ancestral lands. There were other speakers from various indigenous groups throughout Turtle Island.
The other aspect of the day that particularly caught my attention was the clear and outspoken advocacy for the Palestinian people. Salma Abu Ayyash, Preceptor at Harvard University and a social justice activist, shared about the ongoing struggles and desperate plight of the Palestinian people. She compared their experience to those of the indigenous people of Turtle Island over 400 years ago, continuing to today.
Far from being focused on a single, historical event, the Day of Mourning spoke powerfully to me of the persistent implications of a failure to recognize all people as God’s children and, therefore, siblings of one another. Often in my preaching I will remind those gathered of the need to see the face of Jesus in everyone, because everyone is someone for whom Christ died. The Day of Mourning resonated deeply with my Christian faith in lifting up the oppressed, calling for justice and care for the earth and all creation. I ended the day humbled, inspired, and hopeful. Though for me it was a Thanksgiving like no other, I found myself profoundly grateful for what I had seen and heard.
Peace in Christ,
Bishop Paul Egensteiner