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We are fast approaching Thanksgiving Day. It is a time at the threshold of a season of gathering at the turning of the year. A season of light and dark, of giving and receiving, and of creating memories, and of remembering. I am reminded to consider the ways in which we frame our gatherings, our celebrations and our time together with one another.
I must admit that I have often struggled with how best to model gratitude and understanding as I am confused by the messages of history, and commercialism which permeate this time of the year.
As my awareness of the facts surrounding the initial interactions of early European settlers and indigenous peoples increases, my ability to know how to integrate this knowledge into our family Thanksgiving rituals decreases. It is not easy, but I do believe necessary to try to find some ways to teach, re-educate and acknowledge the lessons of the “First Thanksgiving”. It is certainly too much for this simple e-news submission. What I hope to do is to encourage everyone to learn more about the First Thanksgiving and the peoples that attended that three – day feast of gratitude.
That Thanksgiving there were two distinct cultures come together to share their gratitude: the early settlers were the deeply religious people who sought a place of peace where they could freely practice their beliefs. Many of them died of disease and starvation in that first winter. And the indigenous peoples who had lived in harmony on the land for centuries. They shared their knowledge and food with the strangers that came there. It was part of their own sacred practice to give to others. That Thanksgiving was but a brief and beautiful moment.
In her 2013 book, “Braiding Sweetgrass” writer Robin Wall Kimmerer a member of the Potawatomi Nation and an Environmental Biologist shares reflections on indigenous knowledge and beliefs. I was deeply touched by much of her writing.
One piece that stood out to me in particular was a tradition shared by many of the native peoples; It is the recitation of “The Thanksgiving Address”. As she describes it: “A river of words as old as the people themselves, known more accurately in the Ononodaga language, as the Words That Come Before All Else. “ …”It is said that the people were instructed to stand and offer these words whenever they gathered, no matter how many or how few, before anything else was done…beginning with where are feet first touch the earth, we send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world.”
The Thanksgiving Address is quite long, “Part of its power surely rests in the length of time it takes to send greetings and thanks to so many”.
Below is one stanza of the Address- It Begins:
“Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.”
The writer concludes with the following statement:
“Imagine raising children in a culture in which gratitude is the first priority” “The Thanksgiving Address embodies the Onondaga relationship with the world. Each part of Creation is thanked in turn for fulfilling its Creator-given duty to the others. It reminds you everyday that you have enough… more than enough…It leads us to an outlook of contentment and respect for all of Creation.” “The Thanksgiving Address reminds you that you already have everything you need. Gratitude doesn’t send you out shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity. That’s good medicine for land and people alike.”
This Thanksgiving my wish for us all is to take moments to reflect on all of the parts of Creation in our lives and to offer our gratitude for the gifts around and within. We are wealthy beyond imaging if only we know this to be true.