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November is Native American Heritage Month. I've been reading a ton about "the real first Thanksgiving," which, it turns out, wasn't much at all like the one we learned about in school.
But there's one thing the story got right: the concept of being thankful. Gratitude for the natural environment is something that came naturally to indigenous peoples because they lived so close to the land. The Native Americans not only valued fellow humans as part of their community, but also the trees and animals.
Thinking of our natural environment, even trees and birds, as essential community members is something that also comes natural to children. When kids first start to notice their surroundings, everything they see is fascinating. Remember how long it took to get from point A to point B when your kids were curious toddlers who needed to pay respect to every flower or worm or mud puddle they passed?
Sadly, this curiosity, this sense of wonder for all that is wonderful, gets crowded out by everything else that clamors for our attention in this world. Suddenly, a rock is just a rock and a beautiful yellow Dandelion is just another weed.
In my attempt to learn more about the real Thanksgiving story, I came acrosss the Haudenosee Thanksgiving address: a traditional proclamation of deep gratitude for Mother Earth and all her "inhabitants."
The Thanksgiving address is recited at the opening and closing of large gatherings and special events.
"It's an ancient message of peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and her inhabitants. The children learn that, according to Native American tradition, people everywhere are embraced as family. Our diversity, like all wonders of Nature, is truly a gift for which we are thankful. The Thanksgiving Address teaches mutual respect, conservation, love, generosity, and the responsibility to understand that what is done to one part of the Web of Life, we do to ourselves."
This amazing tradition recognizes 18 different facets of our natural world, singling each one out for special recognition. Here's a small sample:
Trees: We now turn our thoughts to the trees. The earth has many families of trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade. others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the tree life. Now our minds are one.
Mother Earth: We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send our greetings and our thanks. Now our minds are one.
Four Winds: We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and our thanks to the Four Winds. Now our minds are one.
Grandmother Moon: We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night‐time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send our greetings and our thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon. Now our minds are one.
Images from Betsy Shaw and iStock
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