As the Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, that first welcomed the Pilgrims to America with an open hand of friendship in the Plymouth colony in 1620, I was horrified by the images of hate and terror that came out of Charlottesville, Virginia last week and am deeply disturbed by the divisiveness that has become our national identity.
For nearly 400 years, my people have experienced the oppression and hateful vitriol we are seeing on full display in 2017 by white nationalists and so-called American Nazis whose mission is to take back “their country” by force and send the rest of us back to whence we came.
But this is OUR country. It belongs to Native Americans and it belongs to our friends and partners of all nationalities, races, and religions, who believe in the ideal of America and what it stands for.
The waving of Nazi flags is an insult to us all, and to those who have fought for and shed blood for our collective freedom, including our 96-year-old Chief Vernon “Silent Drum” Lopez.
Chief Lopez was among the 156,000 Allied soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944; his military service part of a long line of Wampanoag warriors who have fought on behalf of America in every major U.S. conflict going back to the Revolutionary War.
Of course, the D-Day invasion not only marked a turning point in the eventual defeat and unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, it was a watershed event in world history in which a diverse, multi-cultural alliance began to turn the tide against the dangerous ideology that there existed a single, pure, “master race” destined to rule the world.
My people are all too familiar with what we now bear witness to in Charlottesville and what we see even in our own backyard in Massachusetts where Swastikas and other symbols of denigration are too often found. Hundreds of years before terrorists were posting beheadings on social media, our Squaw Sachem Weetametoo’s decapitated head was paraded around the village of Taunton on the end of a pole as a symbol of racial terror.
Today, we stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters, our brothers and sisters in the African-American, Arab, Asian, Hispanic communities and all those who have been targeted and victimized simply because they may look different or that they pray to a different God. It is time for us all to understand that is these differences that make us stronger as Americans.
Our struggle continues on the front lines in the multi-generational fight for equality and in the courts where our Tribe and other disenfranchised groups still face an historic battle for sovereignty and respect.
And yet, as descendants of the first people to inhabit this great land 12,000 years ago, we once again extend an open hand of friendship to the newest waves of immigrants and all those who are committed to the true American ideal, an ideal that celebrates diversity, tolerance and understanding. This is OUR America.
Chairman Cedric Cromwell
Mashpee Wampanaog Tribal Council Chairman