Thanksgiving: An Ancient View

We are grateful for the following two pieces from friends at the Onondaga Nation.

What would life on earth be like without...?
Thanksgiving, the American holiday, is coming once again in a few weeks and I have been asked to give a Native American perspective to add to the usual fare about it. Right from the time humans first existed on earth, humans were given the duty to be thankful. So, when folks ask me what I think of Thanksgiving, I say, of course this is a good occasion, one where people are being thankful.

In our Thanksgiving address, that we open and close formal gatherings with, we bring our minds together as one and send our thanksgiving, love and respect to all the parts of creation that follow their instructions each day. We benefit from Mother Earth, the water, the medicines, the berries, the free animals, the birdlife, the life-giving foods, the trees, the winds, the thunderers, the sun, the moon, and the stars. We give thanks to the messengers that brought lessons to earth to help human beings live together in peace.

Reflect with me: what would life on earth be like without the water? All life depends on water. What would life on earth be like without the sun? Would there be life? What would life on earth be like without the trees? Trees provide oxygen. Would we survive in an oxygen-depleted world? What would life on earth be like without having the moon in the night sky? There wouldn't be a system of tides. How would the oceans react?

What would life be like on earth without humans?

Humans depend on all parts of creation. We depend on the waters to drink. We depend on the life-giving foods to sustain our bodies. We depend on the sun. We depend on the moon. What kind of air would we be breathing if the winds didn't come and clear the air? We would be lonesome without our dogs and kitties. How would we note the seasons if the geese did not head south? We are totally dependent on these parts of Creation following their instructions. Therefore, it makes a great deal of sense that it is our duty as humans to give thanks to all that we depend on.

When people first arrived from Europe they would say we were "worshipping" the sun, the moon, etc. This is not true; the word "worship" does not fit. It is an expression of thankfulness.

Thanksgiving Day is one day out of the year that Americans gather together to be thankful for all that they have. I'm all for it. Enjoy your turkey.

- Freida J. Jacques is from the Onondaga Nation and serves on the SPC Advisory Committee.



Human Time or Earth Time?

People don't operate in the world's time, or the time of the mountain; they operate in the time of the human being. And that's probably not a good idea because the time of the human being is rather short.

Our people were always spiritual people…Our first instruction was the ceremony.

What you were instructed to do was give thanks for what is given to you here, to be appreciative…The Pilgrims got hold of it and they called it Thanksgiving.

Respect is learned through ceremony, as a process, and so thanksgiving comes as a natural way of being, not something that you do occasionally. It's something that you do all the time.

- Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons,
from a 1991 interview with Bill Moyers.