We Give Thanks

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The Thanksgiving holiday is full of disharmony as we come to grips with our historic (and recent) treatment of the Native American peoples who were here before we arrived from Europe.

A few personal thoughts:

Growing up Jewish, this was always my favorite holiday. We didn’t need to explain our religious holidays and we weren’t excluded from the mainstream Christian holidays. This was an American holiday, one that everyone could participate in, both as a harvest holiday and as a day of gratitude. It brought our family together as well as allowing us to be a part of the greater family of our community.

This year comemorates the 400th anniversary of that traditional first Thanksgiving hosted by the Pilgrims who survived that first harsh winter. The basics of that first holiday, a gathering in gratitude brought two different communities together to share what each had. The helped each other and maintained a friendship against great odds. In modern days, we have much to be thankful for. I won’t list mine, but take a moment to reflect on your own blessings.

At mass this morning, we continued a tradition at my parish that I have always loved. Instead of a collection, we bring a bag of non-perishable food to the altar (for our food pantry and Christmas baskets), and at the end of mass, each family is given a small loaf of bread that has been blessed to share at our dinner table. We are called to pray and to break bread.

Give us this day, our daily bread…

(I apologize for the blurry picture) (c)2021

Last year while visiting Niagara Falls, New York, we learned of a nearby monument in Lewiston that commemorates the Tuscarora Indians coming to the rescue of American citizens during the War of 1812. The British invaded from Canada to the north and were mobilizing an attack on the village with their Indian allies. The Tuscarora, being outnumbered gave the appearance of greater numbers and were able to give the Lewiston families time to escape the inevitable horrors of death and watching their loved ones brutally murdered.

This monument is breathtaking in its emotion. The sculpted faces of both the mother and child fleeing and the Tuscarora helping them is so vivid, it tells the story in deeper and more profound ways than reading about it could ever do. I stood in awe of it for several minutes, even though it was pouring rain for much of the time.

Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021
A closer look, Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021

Enjoy the day with family and friends or alone, in peaceful quiet or boisterous noise, with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce or whatever your family traditions call for.

The Other Side of Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving today is fraught with its past and the reckoning that is still to come in many ways.

For those of us who grew up in non-Christian households, Thanksgiving was and is the great equalizer. We can all celebrate it without the religious baggage and without not fitting in. We gather as a family, we express our gratitude and our love, and it’s the one day of the year that nearly everyone has the day off, at least until a couple of years ago when retailers began to open on Thanksgiving Day.

There are of course exceptions, but it is a day for everyone.

Of course, that is also not the entire story. From the Native American prospective, settlers coming to the new world caused trauma beyond belief. We are only beginning to open up and discuss and educate ourselves to be inclusive, but also to move forward as a country.

While I believe the original Thanksgiving story despite knowing its clear embelllishments, I think it’s important to distinguish between the Columbus and future expeditions’ theft of land and genocide and that early settlers and Native Indians, as they were known at the time, did work together, and to celebrate the help that the Native Peoples gave to the Pilgrims should be recognized. The Pilgrims, and other Native-friendly settlers wouldn’t have survived the new world without the help of the indigenous people already living here.

Here are two ways to begin educating ourselves:

Native American Tribal Map

Thirty Everyday Phrases that Perpetuate the Oppression of Indigenous Peoples

This Land – A New Podcast Series from Crooked Media

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Beginning tomorrow on Crooked Media is an eight episode podcast with Rebecca Nagle about two murders, a Supreme Court case and the land in Oklahoma. I can’t wait to hear what this journalist and Cherokee Nation citizen has to say about this compelling story.

You can subscribe now and then get notified when it’s available for download and listening. I’m already subscribed on PlayerFM, and can’t wait for it to be downloaded. 

Find it wherever you regularly get your podcasts.

​This is how Crooked Media describes it: 

“An 1839 assassination of a Cherokee leader. A 1999 small town murder. Two crimes collide in a Supreme Court case that will decide the fate of one man and nearly half of the land in Oklahoma. Hosted by Rebecca Nagle, Oklahoma journalist and citizen of Cherokee Nation, This Land traces how a cut and dry homicide opened up an investigation into the treaty rights of five Native American tribes. Tune in, beginning June 3rd to Crooked Media’s 8-episode series to find out how this unique case could result in the largest restoration of tribal land in US history when it answers one fundamental question: Who owns this land?”

This Land 

Reflection at St. Kateri’s Shrine

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[Note: This reflection ended up encompassing many things: travel, spirituality, prayer, politics, and again part of my year of mercy. I hope you enjoy all that it is, and that you see the National Shrine in Fonda, NY one day yourselves. It is a very peaceful place to visit, to sit, and to pray.]



In the early part of November, just because I was in the neighborhood, I decided to visit the Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. I had a lot on my mind and in watching what was continually unfolding at Standing Rock in North Dakota, I felt helpless towards a people that had captured my imagination and inspiration since I was a child.

I remember playing cowboys & Indians. That was a thing in the 1970s. I always wanted to be an Indian. In college I chose a class titled North American Indians as my anthropology elective. As a preschool teacher, I changed the curriculum for Thanksgiving to avoid making headdresses. I added Native foods to our school’s Thanksgiving feast. Instead of the headdresses, we made more Native American crafts and listened to the drum beats and chanting of Native American music. I can still hear the cassette in my mind as I write this.

On the hill above the Shrine, I went up to the spring, but when I followed the signs to the spring, and walked through the crunchy leaves carpeting the path, I saw the way down and the supporting handrails. I could hear the water.

But I was alone and the rest of the way was steep and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to climb back up, so I missed the spring. I chose not to go down on the slippery leaves. I still felt okay, though, because the spring was the cherry.

At the Shrine, I stood by St. Kateri’s plaque which included the dates of her veneration and canonization. I looked out passed the sign of the cross to the rustic looking buildings to the close knit trees, their narrow trunks rising into the sun. The sun was bright that day, coming down in rays through the pines. The green grass was beginning to be covered in their shedding pine needles.

The buildings themselves were closed for the season, but you can’t close the sky or the air or the land.

I stood there and I prayed. I asked St. Kateri for her intercession for North Dakota and the Sioux and their companions and their supporters. Water protectors. An end to DAPL. An end to the violence against them by more people trying to take their land. Again.

There were water protectors in Bismarck – the citizens and politicians. Dogs weren’t sicced on them. They changed the route to the pipeline. Maybe if there were water protectors in Flint, Michigan they wouldn’t have allowed lead to be in the water.

I guess you could call this a kind of pilgrimage; with purpose and spirit. It was spontaneous and it felt right and it fit in with everything I was trying to do in this past Year of Mercy. I was guided to action, something I could actually do and my heart swelled.

I prayed for peace and I prayed for resistance and strength and the outcome that protects the land and the spirit of the land for everyone who comes after us.

At the Shrine, at the Native American Peace Grove, is the following prayer:

Speak evil of no one, if you can say no

Good of a person, then be silent.

Let not your tongues betray you into

evil. For these are words of our Creator.

Let all strive to cultivate friendship

with those who surround them.

-Handsome Lake – Iroquois Prophet