American Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday for me, and many others, as a Native American. Some Native families celebrate it while others do not. It is an annual reminder of the painful past between indigenous people and the Europeans who later came to inhabit their lands. My family has always celebrated Thanksgiving, but I was never under the illusion that it harkens back to a Kumbaya relationship between the Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims.
Thanksgiving is an opportunity to discuss the tribal nations that lived (and continue to live!) in New England, and in recent years I have seen more interest from families looking to learn and share about the indigenous people in the United States more broadly. As a Catholic, there are obvious points of tension between traditional tribal religions and the Catholic faith, but one notable overlap is the celebration of God’s creation in the natural world (I wrote about this recently on Live Today Well), and that is particularly relevant to the Thanksgiving holiday.
Today we have gathered and 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, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address
If you’re looking for a resource to share with your children this year, I recommend Giving Thanks, a book written by fellow Mohawk author Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Cayuga/Tuscarora artist Erwin Printup, Jr. It’s a beautiful book that adapts the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address for children, and would make a lovely read aloud on Thanksgiving day. There’s even a Teacher’s Guide for going deeper and stimulating discussion in the family.
The Thanksgiving Address is used by the Six Nations of the Haundenosaunee (Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga, and Tuscarora) to open and close social and traditional religious meetings, and can also be used as a daily sunrise prayer. It is an ancient practice of gratitude for all life. “Children learn that people everywhere are embraced as family. Our diversity, like all wonders of Nature, is truly a gift for which we are thankful.”
As referenced in my piece for Live Today Well, one of my favorite blends of my indigenous heritage with my Catholic faith is praying the Canticle of Daniel as part of the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s a little lengthy, but would make a beautiful incorporation into your Thanksgiving prayers.
Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord.Daniel 3:57
Praise and exalt him above all forever.