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Thoughts of Giving Thanks

As the thanksgiving holiday weekend draws to a close and I reflect on the swirl of public commentary among Natives and non-Natives about what a Thanksgiving celebration looks like to Indians and and what is there to give thanks for, I thought I would share some of my memories and what this holiday might mean for us today. When I was growing up in St. Francis and Rosebud, I remember thanksgiving as a social, family time – we didn’t engage in much political discussion. We were mostly interested in our Mom’s good cooking. Her pumpkin pie made in a rectangular cake pan so it could be a deep dish pie is still a family tradition. I make my stuffing the same way she did. At some point we began to have cherry jello with canned fruit cocktail, a major treat for us. We had a kids table and a grown-up table until my parents got an even bigger table so we could all sit there. We ate simply, but my parents made sure we had plenty to eat. When I was older and had children of my own, my Mom reinforced that each of us should create our own family traditions, the kids and I cheerfully made turkeys out of handprints and wrote on them what we are thankfulfor, we still do that in my home. I keep the handprints for the poignant memories they invoke in later years. This year one of my grandsons said he was thankful to be an Indian and that he had long hair. I am thankful to be a mom and grandma which is a great joy and privilege. I am also thankful for Batman, which is a family memory for my daughter and I.

As we grew older, those of who are engaged in the business of self-determination and protection of sovereignty became increasingly aware of the incongruity between our celebration of thanksgiving and our history as Indigenous in this country. We feel a guilty pleasure in gathering as family and friends, keeping old traditions and making new ones. We reach out to each other to give advice, seek meaning, share our thanks for what we do have. We remind ourselves that we are responsible for each other and should give generously of our time and resources to our Native family and to others who are struggling.

All of our discussion about whether we should celebrate Thanksgiving does exactly what it should do. It makes us remember, it brings us closer together, it causes the grown-ups to pause and tell the children some of our history and it honors our bounty and gifts as Native people.

Both of my parents are gone now, somewhere in the spirit world they are watching their children and grandchildren to see what we are doing to remember our families who are our history and to give thanks. Today is my Dad’s birthday, we still miss him, sometimes Thanksgiving Day was his birthday and we would have cake too.

3 comments to Thoughts of Giving Thanks

  • Sherry Redowl

    As tribal people we have always created our own traditions around the Christian holidays within our tiwahe. Mostly, everyone imitates popular culture. The ceremonies that were given to us by the White Buffalo Calf Woman were taught by her and are still performed as close as possible to her teachings. We thank the Creator everyday for all that surrounds us and recognize that our ancestors are watching us and giving us strength and guidance to go forward as Lakota people, so we didn’t have a special day to give thanks. As long as our families remember who we are as tribal people and teach our children, our nations will continue to exist within our tribal homelands.
    Our family has always had a big Thanksgiving dinner and when my grandparents were alive it was a time that the whole family came together to share a meal. Within my family we all go around the table and tell one thing we are thankful for each year, then we offer the spirit plate to our ancestors and have our meal. This year, my son said the prayer to the spirits in Lakota.

  • Karen Julius

    I so agree with Ms. Crazy-Bull the “thanksgiving holiday” is about family and sharing I think, I grew up with 12 brothers and sister and we always looked forward to thanksgiving because we new there would be a huge meal and friends and relatives visiting and having dinner with us, we rarily had turkey, instead we had whatever our uncles and brothers caught, mostly wild duck or gesse, sometimes deer meat, but it wasn’t really the food,that we were thankful for, although we were thankful for the food, as we were and are everyday, but mostly it was family and friends, relatives that we didn’t know that I was thankful most, because i always enjoyed getting to know relatives, and especially elders. Today we had thankgiving dinner it was hard because of the loss of my oldest grandson, it was his favorite holiday and he loved it for the same reasons all the family came over and we ate and laughed togerther, for a whole night, but his brother Nathan helped me with thankgiving dinner this time, it took us a while to get the dinner done I guess our hearts weren’t really in it this year, but it took us forever to get the two turkey cooked, for some reason we couldn’t get them to be fully done, by time it was done it was 8:30 pm, and everybody waited and watched a movie together and the kids played, and I think in the end the turkey’s not cooking was the blessing, and what I was most thankful for, because during the wait we remembered that we still had family to be thankful for, and in the end we all held hands and thanked God for our food and our family, while remembering our lost loved one, my daughter, her son, and my mom. We smiled and had a wonderful meal togerther.

  • This was a great reflection piece… many of your family traditions remind me of my own. Somehow, my mother’s fun creations with fruit and jello became a higlight of favorite foods on Thanksgiving. And while my brothers and I now live far apart, we still manage to connect and remind each other of just how wonderful my parents were in passing down a spirit of gratitude and sacrifice. You have a wonderful and insightful blog…keep up the great work! :)

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