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ThanksTaking or ThanksGiving?


MATIKA WILBUR: Welcome back to another episode of All My Relations. Thank you so much for being here with us today. I'm Matika. I am a photographer and a filmmaker from the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes here in Washington State, coming to you from [] Land.

ADRIENNE KEENE: And I'm Adrienne. I am a slightly overworked professor and a writer and blogger coming to you from what is currently known as Rhode Island. And I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. We're in the middle of the time of the year that is particularly hard on Indigenous folks in terms of representation. So we roll from like Columbus Day in October to Halloween where folks are dressing up like natives and wearing disrespectful costumes and then wearing false sports season, which used to mean the Washington football team but doesn't anymore, which is great, but still means hockey and the Blackhawks and all of these other Indian mascots. And then we're in Native American Heritage Month, which means we get called upon all the time to do talks and explain things over and over. And then it all ends at the end of the month with Thanksgiving and growing up, so many Americans get the really distorted stories of the myth of the Pilgrims and the Indians. And we wanted to do an episode to talk about Thanksgiving with folks that can tell the story from their own perspective. And that's definitely something that is not done too often in popular culture.

MATIKA: Every year we are confronted with Native American Heritage Month and the time period where I am asked to go and give many, many lectures and keynotes and I'm often asked to give commentary on this holiday. And there's two things to that. One is that I'm not really the appropriate person to discuss Wampanoag history, which is why I wanted to do this episode in this way and ask Wampanoag aunties to come on and tell us from their own perspective how they feel about this, the retelling of the myth of Thanksgiving from an American perspective. I would rather hear from them how they feel about Thanksgiving. So that's one I wanted to hold public space where that conversation and the other part is that I feel like this holiday, while I do celebrate Thanksgiving with my family, you know, in a very much like a stereotypical American way, I personally really enjoy coming together with my family. And I like making a turkey. I like making pies. I even like that my mom makes cinnamon rolls, you know, and they're delicious. I like the Thanksgiving Day parade. Like, I like all those things. I'm not trying to pooh-pooh on Thanksgiving. You know, I also think that there's we expound on this and that all of us could and should think about a different and new way of engaging with traditions that stem from Indigenous belief systems. And there's a better way to do that than the way that we're doing it right now. And that's why I wanted to do this episode.

ADRIENNE: A lot of this is because in the American version of Thanksgiving, we save up all of our gratitude and spew it out on one day of the entire year while we're eating a lot of food and watching football and whatever, which is not the way that we do Thanksgiving or gratitude in Indigenous communities. For a lot of communities, for most of us, it's an everyday practice. It's all the time practice. It's a there's a very formulaic way that we think about giving thanks through prayer, through ceremony. And I know Matika, you have a lot of examples of that through all of your travels throughout Indian country.

MATIKA: Right. And one really good example of a Thanksgiving address is one from Haudenosaunee country. And so I reached out to a good friend of mine, Charlotte Logan, and you might recognize her voice from our episode Beyond Blood Quantum. And she's currently at Cornell University in the Department of Linguistics, working on her PhD in Haudenosaunee languages. And so I said, hey, Charlotte, can you do me a favor and record the Thanksgiving address for us so that our relatives can hear an actual Thanksgiving address? And so she did. She sent it over to us. And I want to play it for you. This is the shortened version of a Thanksgiving address, and it's translated as the first matters before all else. As in these are the first words that are spoken to give thanks, an important thing to do and that should be done before anything else happens. Since this is in Onondaga, I thought maybe it would be nice to read it for you in English also.

CHARLOTTE LOGAN: [speaking Onondaga]

MATIKA: So now in fact indeed we think and greet each other there than let it be that way in our minds. We thank our Mother Earth there than let it be that way in our minds gone. So now in fact indeed we thank every kind of medicine there than let it be that way in our minds. So now in fact, indeed, we thank them every kind of tree and bush there, than let it be that way in our minds. So now, in fact, indeed, we thank them every kind of berry there than let it be that way in our minds. So now, in fact, indeed, we thank them, every kind of animal that runs around there, than let it be that way in our minds. So now, in fact, indeed, we thank water there than let it be that way in our minds. So now, in fact, indeed, we thank life sustainers food there than let it be that way in our minds. So now, in fact, indeed, we thank where the winds stir there, than let it be that way in our mind. So now, in fact, indeed, we thank our grandfathers the thunders there than let it be that way in our minds. So now, in fact, indeed, we think and greet him, our elder brother, the sun there, than let it be that way in our minds. So now in fact, indeed, we thank Grandmother Moon there, than let it be that way in our minds. So now in fact indeed we thank the four protector's down there then let it be that way in our minds. So now in fact indeed we thank our leader, handsome [] there, than let it be that way in our minds. So now in fact, indeed, we thank our creator who lives in the sky there, than let it be that way in our minds.

MATIKA: Having a holiday that only gives thanks one time a year is dangerous because we have ways in our communities of offering thanks and giving thanks on a regular basis that shapes the way that we interact with the world. An example of that is that we have a salmon ceremony every year and the salmon ceremony is this thing that we do where our whole community comes together and we give thanks to the salmon before we before we harvest any more salmon, we sing, we and then we put together a spirit plate and our fishermen go out to the four corners of our sea and they offer it to the ocean and we give thanks and then every time there forward that we go out and harvest before we take anything from the ocean, we give thanks, we stop, we make an offering for the water and we do the same thing on our canoes before we get onto the water, before we like step foot in the canoe, we we dip our paddle in the water and we give thanks to the water for carrying us, for allowing us to be there. One of our belief systems is to go take a dip and to cleanse ourselves. And we do that cleansing on a regular basis. You know, we go to the salt water to to give thanks to cleanse ourselves and we make an offering to the water of tobacco or we make an offering with our hair. But we definitely make an offering with song and we announce ourselves and we give thanks to the water. And when we do that on a regular basis, it it changes my physical interaction with the water. You know, like I don't ever I don't ever go to a new place and get into the water without first introducing myself. You know, like I I will stand at the at the shore and introduce myself, my ancestors and who I am and ask permission to to go into the water before I actually do that and and that has to do with years of being trained that it's my responsibility to give thanks. I do the same thing before I take anything from the forest, before I harvest cedar. I do the same thing before I harvest from my garden and when I plant seeds and before I eat new food, I stop, I take a moment, I take a breath and I give thanks, you know, and that's the that framework takes away that sense of entitlement, you know, and that's really what we're pushing back against. And we're going to get into that in this episode. But that sense of entitlement that's deeply rooted in manifest destiny, that is actually rooted in white supremacy, that says that I am superior, therefore, all of this is mine is backward thinking, and it's the thinking that we are trying to overcome. You know, like we cannot really be in good relationship with one another until we learn how to be humble and give thanks and be grateful for all the living things. And that is not a simple process. You know, like thanking things from the sky beings all the way down to the inner creatures of the earth takes time. A real Thanksgiving address like done in Haudenosaunee country will take like an hour. You know, it it takes practice.

ADRIENNE: Absolutely. And there's an entire industry that is now popping up in this sort of like self care wellness culture about having gratitude journals and thinking about shifting your brain space to a mindset of gratitude. And there's psychological research that has showed that if you start doing that every day is a practice, that it really it actually rewires your brain. And this is something that Indigenous people have known from the beginning, as you just laid out so beautifully, like this is just rooted in who we are. That's a really powerful concept, is understanding how that can reshape your relationships to the land and to one another and to the material things in your life if you orient from this position of gratitude, of giving thanks and make it a daily thing, and not just this, like once a year, America blowout.

MATIKA: Mm hmm. So when we were doing research around this topic on other conversations, we found that a lot of people spent a lot of time unpacking the myths and misconceptions of the origin story and they go on and on about retelling the story from a better perspective. But they don't really talk about the implications for the contemporary moment. What does it really mean that we still celebrate Thanksgiving, that we're still telling a colonial history? And how might it be different if it was told from our own perspective?