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Thanksgiving & Native American Heritage Month as Invitations, Part I

Monday, November 21, 2022 8:34 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

As a hub for conversations among educators, ERAFANS has been approached by many of you asking for help finding alternative ways to acknowledge the Thanksgiving holiday in your classrooms and programs. While responding to this need, we begin this blog post with a blanket of apology: recognizing that we are in the very earliest stages of starting to address the harms done by a long global history of colonization, with ongoing oppression of BIPOC and other marginalized communities.

We cannot hope to dismantle the legacy of such complex and often unacknowledged harm through a single post or holiday. We offer this blog as our best effort to simply begin to acknowledge and act against these wider and pervasive systems, by responding specifically to your request for support around the particular topic of Thanksgiving, as well as Native American Heritage Month.

Beginning with Gratitude

The practice of pausing to acknowledge what we’re feeling grateful for has long been common in many cultures around the world. As a core routine, this practice helps “bring hearts and minds together” at the beginning of the day, or when a group gathers, or before eating food together, etc.

Within the nature connection movement, awareness of the Haudenosaunee practice of the Thanksgiving Address or Words Before All Else was shared by Jake Swamp,Tekaronianekon “Where Two Skies Come Together,” royaner (sub-chief) of the Wolf Clan, Kanienʼkehá:ka (Mohawk) from Ahkwesáhsne (across the New York/Ontario border), founder of the Tree of Peace Society and delegate to the United Nations, of whom many people say “The single most influential person I never met.” His wife Judy Swamp is a traditional elder of the Kanienʼkehá:ka who also mentored many nature connection programs, and one of their children, Skahendowaneh Swamp, is an installed speaker of the longhouse, educator, and traditional artist.

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message is a book by Jake Swamp suitable for young children. This is one Teacher’s Guide to go along with the book.

Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World is a small booklet version by Jake Swamp and John Stokes available online in eleven different languages paired with Mohawk. It was produced by The Tracking Project together with the Tree of Peace Society, the Six Nations Indian Museum and the Native Self-Sufficiency Center; proceeds are shared among these groups.

Skä•noñh - Great Law of Peace Center offers this video explanation of the Thanksgiving Address/Words Before All Else.

This is a video of Jake Swamp speaking the Thanksgiving Address with Joanne Shenandoah’s music.

Robin Wall Kimmerer tells the story of one school’s implementation of the Thanksgiving Address in their morning announcements in her book Braiding Sweetgrass (also available as an audiobook read by the author, and a new edition adapted for young adults by Monique Gray Smith. This was the first book of ERAFANS Nature Book Club series, which is open to new members.

A simple group way to practice gratitude is to go around a circle of those gathered and invite each one present to say their name, then share something they’re feeling grateful for, in no hurry, then somehow signal when they are complete such as “thank you for listening to my words.” You might find a stone, feather, or stick to pass as an indication of taking a turn. Coyote mentors often include each person’s Nature Names, and reflect on aspects of nature in our current location and season we’ve noticed and appreciate. It’s wonderful for children to see adults model this pattern of speaking from the heart. Keep in mind that sharing should always be an open invitation and not a requirement. You may invite everyone to speak but remind them that silence or pass can be a way to share.

Reciprocity as the Natural Extension of Gratitude

Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss, offers an insightful reflection on reciprocity and mutualism among all species

Four Worlds International Institute - “Sixteen Indigenous Guiding Principles for Co-Creating a Sustainable, Harmonious, Prosperous World emerged from a 50-year process of reflection, consultation and action within Indigenous communities across the Americas. They are rooted in the concerns of hundreds of Indigenous Elders, Spiritual Leaders, and Community Members, as well as in the best thinking of many non- Indigenous scholars, researchers and human and community development practitioners.”

This article explains some of the ways in which many indigenous languages reflect a non-dominant way of relating to the world: 

With these in mind, you might find inspiration for practices with the children to engage in small acts of gratitude for and reciprocity with the plants, trees, animals, birds, and water-dwelling creatures near you, whether that’s caregiving in a physical way, and/or offering a song or dance to those species, or telling one another stories about them.

This post is part one of three in a series, "Thanksgiving & Native American Heritage Month as Invitations”. ERAFANS staff has taken great care and sensitivity compiling this blog post in a way that honors Indigenous peoples and helps others do the same. If you have questions please feel free to contact us at programs@erafans.org

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