From: Patrick Boozhoo
I apologize for speaking before any of my elders and ask forgiveness if my words should offend any reader gracious enough to consider them. It is only my humble intention to offer one Native’s beliefs, thoughts, and hopes for Thanksgiving and to hopefully help fulfill a promise.
Before I begin I feel it is necessary to note that I don’t speak for Native Peoples (there are hundreds of tribes), Anishinaabe (there are many Nations), Ojibwe (there are many bands) or the People of Red Cliff (there are many clans) each with their own beliefs. The words contained here are my own influenced by family members, Elders and friends generous enough to share of themselves and the gifts they were given.
I was taught that long ago we came from a hole in the sky to this place. A consummate world with creatures that existed in balance and harmony with their Mother that neither needed nor asked for our arrival. They took pity upon us and offered of their abundance and themselves in exchange for our thanks and gratitude. We were allowed to stay on this land so long as we would honor that gift with respect. The people flourished for many generations and the balance of nature was maintained.
After many ages the People began to forget the covenant with this land. The creatures grew angry and a council was called to determine the fate of humans. Humans were taking more than they had need for, wasting the gifts of life, forgetting to give thanks and not remembering how subservient we are to the land. It was decided that the humans would be exterminated, wiped from the land and restore the symmetry of life.
Once again pity was taken upon us and we were warned of our impending doom. The people survived, renewed their practices of giving thanks and strove toward the balance they had lost. We prospered for many generations, stories were told to remind us of our place in this world, and harmony with the land was maintained. When an animal’s life was taken it was done so graciously and with appreciation for that life. Plants were harvested in a conservative and reverent manor. The frailty of humanity would not be forgotten again.
A new people came to this land weak, lost, and helpless as we once were, and destined to perish. Some of the Natives took pity on them, remembering stories of their own people’s strife. They had more than was needed for their own survival and shared food and knowledge with the strangers, helping them to survive. Through compassion and generosity, they showed them how to endure on this land.
At this point I believe it’s important to note that I am not ignorant of the commonly accepted and historical accounts of both the Indigenous peoples and early colonists. My abridged version caters more toward the commonly accepted narrative of Thanksgiving and why it is celebrated. I have by no means forgotten the 90-plus percentage of people that were wiped out by disease prior to contact with the first white person nor the early colonial attempts that were thwarted due to stories of the origin of the former. In the interest of continuity and brevity I have omitted them in hopes of conveying a simple message of dependence, gratitude, hope and respect.
Thanksgiving isn’t a widely appreciated holiday among Natives and it appears that appreciation is being lost in the white society as well. I believe this is largely because of the general illusion of independence, ungratefulness for the necessities of life, the abundance of despair over hope and the lack of respect that is carried for one another. Once a holiday that centered on appreciation for the year’s prosperity has now become a holiday of self-indulgence, commercialism and the official kick-off of the Christmas season.
Recognizing our dependence upon the gifts of the Earth and our fellow human beings is paramount to our own survival. We need this beautiful, wonderous and bountiful Mother (Earth) and she has no reliance on us. Conserving and appreciating her resources is tantamount to our own survival. Without our fellow man or woman, we could not exist. We are not only gregarious beings, our existence depends upon it.
Gratitude or giving thanks isn’t just a fleeting thought or a feeling. I was taught that gratitude is an action word. Sorry English teachers, but without attaching it to a deed, it’s nothing more than an ideal when it needs to be representative of our beliefs.
Remembering that the gift of life is just that — a gift — and celebrating it. Share that gratitude with those less fortunate because you just might be one misfortune from being in their shoes.
Hope should be shared from those whom hold it with the desperate and unfortunate who’ve lost it. It’s why this nation so celebrates itself. It’s the vessel that holds our dreams and propels us to strive for a better life for ourselves and our children. It’s the reason people walk thousands of miles with their children to our borders rather than surrendering to despair.
Respect is a commodity of such terribly short supply these days. Our nation has become so polarized, self-absorbed and intolerant that we’re disregarding our neighbors, fellow citizens, and humanity. Our possessions have become disposable objects, and we neglect to appreciate the value of the resources that compose them. Roughly 150,000 tons of food is wasted every day in the U.S. Respect is synonymous with value, honor and reverence.
I don’t mean to leave anyone crying in their cranberries or rain on anyone’s Thanksgiving Day parade, but rather, for people to pause before they dig in this coming holiday, be mindful of your fortune and say Miigwich/thank you — our grandchildren are depending on us.