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THANKSGIVING: ANOTHER INDIGENOUS PERSPECTIVE
Chief Joseph Riverwind
Broad statements are never accurate about Thanksgiving and its history. There are many indigenous people who still celebrate the original meaning of this Feast while remembering our ancestors that we all lost through genocide and conquest. Healing comes with time but we have to make a choice concerning what we, as indigenous people, judge is no longer applicable to our lives and culture. Does our own hurt, unforgiveness, and bitterness get in the way of what Creator taught our ancestors to do and what we are to continue doing as part of our tradition and culture?
Do we then continue the cycle of bitterness and hatred towards others who are not native? Most people of European descent in this country have only had ancestors here for 3-5 generation. Their families had nothing to do with what took place here yet they bear the brunt of a past that some native people are trying to unjustly burden them with.
There was a time when author and researcher L.A. Marzulli and I were on the White Earth reservation protocoling one of the medicine men of a particular village. He welcomed us into his home and even though I introduced L.A. to the medicine man there was no L.A. Marzulli; he simply did not exist and would not look at him much less glance in his direction. When my sister found out that we were doing some research with L.A. she told me that it would be very difficult for him to receive from native people as long as he looked like General Custer. That could have been the reason why the medicine man ignored L.A. but it all came down to a pivotal moment. The medicine man began talking about the “white man” when L.A. spoke. Possibly for the second time since we had entered the medicine man’s home.
“I’m Italian! My grandfather stepped off the boat, that wasn’t us” L.A. said in his cool, poised and calm manner. L.A.’s emphatic remark about his ancestors having nothing to do with colonization or any massacres garnered him a turn of the head. The medicine man locked his brown eyes with L.A. as if searching his soul. Then with a nod of his head the medicine man said; “Good”. The way he was treating L.A. completely changed. So much that you would have thought they were longtime friends. He even took L.A. down to see some of the sacred items that he had down in the basement.
Reflecting on this humorous memory it provides a different perspective of the worlds we live in based on our upbringing, the stories we hear and the legacy that is passed down to us. It also provides an honest look at our own indigenous history. We must look at our own ancestors before any “white man” set foot on Turtle Island. We had tribes sacrificing other natives to their gods and goddesses and we did horrible things to one another when a prisoner was captured or when our ancestors would overtake another tribe’s territory. Are all the atrocities of our bloody past included when we remember the genocide that our ancestors committed to other native people?
There is no doubt that it was clear-cut genocide from the time of the first contact in 1492 with my people. We were the first to be called “Indian – Indio” and the native holocaust began with my Arawak Taino people. This doesn’t change the fact that before contact we killed and massacred our own native people whenever there were tribal wars or territorial disputes.
The fall harvest feasts were not a regular “holiday” since the native people did not know that word but did know the cycles of the seasons, the moons and the stars. They knew when it was time for the harvest festival called different names by different tribes. Among the Southeast tribes and Oklahoma; Bvsketv (Green Corn) is what was and still is celebrated as the 7 Day Harvest Feast. We remember all these things that happened to our ancestors with tears in our eyes and hearts full of sorrow. We must also keep the traditions alive that they lost their lives for and this one was one of the most important ones of them all.
This is the one time of year when The People gathered, built the thatched roof huts (chickee/bohio), prepared the grounds, hunted and fished for food, then at night we would sing, stomp dance, eat, rest, eat more, dance, sing, sleep, play, rest, eat more and be together with all the clans gathered. All of this for one main purpose, to give thanks to The Creator for the harvest.
Nestled within the four sacred arbors The Caller begins the ancient song. He stands by the sacred fire which gives light to the Stomp Grounds. He stands there in the soft white sand glimmering with reflections of the fire as his gaze covers the ceremonial square. With a loud, rumbling voice he raises his turtle shell rattle to the sky, looks up and calls upon The Creator before he begins the song….YeeeehHooooooooWAH!
That custom will never die nor will we allow it to because it is what Creator tells us to do for all time. To celebrate with thanks for everything from the following year. We have to make a choice as to who we are going to listen to and are we going to perpetuate bitterness, anger, and hate which fuels the arrows of guilt that are being shot at non-native people. We can remember our painful history without being hateful towards another human being because of the color of their skin.
This is not the good road of our ancestors, it’s a road of our own making. Always giving thanks to Creator is the ancient way of our people. Who do we listen to Creator or Man?
That’s What the Old Ones Say – REVISED
Untold stories? Untold outside of Ceremonial Grounds, Stomp Arbors, Powwow Grounds, and private family gatherings tucked away deep on tribal lands. I was honored and humbled to be able to sit and learn these old stories from elders hailing from many First Nations tribes. Comanche, Dineh, Apache, Anishinabe, Aztec, Cherokee, Creek, Cheyenne, Lakota, and Mohawk are a few of the First Nation’s whose elders shared their beautiful stories with me.
April 20th 2016: Chief Joseph Riverwind has revised his book and added 2 new chapters!
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