Thanksgiving Memories of a Native American
Article ID: 15802
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Lady Abigail Welcher
Posted: November 10th. 2016
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Thanksgiving has always been a strange and difficult time for me. Sometimes it was hard to understand or accept how some would celebrate this holiday. Perhaps it is because I am not only a card carrying Witch but I am also a proud card carrying Native American who in childhood spent many of her holidays on the reservation with family members.
I understand giving thanks for all the amazing gifts of life and the blessings given us by the Goddess. I try to do this every day. But for myself, I see this holiday as a day of mourning the near alienation of our sisters and brothers of all Native American heritages and also as a time of loss for many personally within these amazing traditions.
In school we were taught how the Pilgrims discovered America. This might surprise some but the Pilgrims didn’t discover anything. Many various native peoples, of many different nations, were living on this land, now called America. This was their land; land they were given in trust to care for by the Great Mother and Great Father. So, though it may not be the popular version, America was only ‘discovered’ by those who didn’t know it was here.
As a child, I raised in the South by my Great Grandmother. She was an amazing woman, Witch, elder, shaman and a beautiful Native American from the Quapaw tribes of the Missouri Territories. They were called River People or ‘those who lived down stream’. Many of my childhood summers and holidays were spent running free on the reservation and playing with my cousins. I was a bit of a toe-head but no one ever treated me any differently than anyone else.
When we spent Thanksgiving at home with the family, I didn’t look forward to it. It didn’t have those extraordinary feelings of expectation, the excitement that comes when you are waiting for the Sabbaths of Samhain, Beltane, Ostara or Yule. There was no tingle of energy, no special sensation that would come over me waiting for the long nights, when the moon danced across the sky and told Her secrets in the night. No, this holiday was not one I looked forward to at all.
Yet, those few I spent with my family on the reservation, those were magickal. Partly because we were away from the people that looked down their noses at us, the same people that would call on my Great Grandmother for readings, teas or potions. These people who somehow believed that because of her skin she was lesser than they were. It always broke my heart.
It was a cool morning and still dark outside when my Great Grandmother woke me to dress and help her pack our big old black car for the 6 hour drive to get to the reservation. I was so excited to visit our family. I was thrilled to be seeing my cousins. We would ride horses, and run wild all over the place while the grown-ups cooked dinner and talked of years long past.
I quickly ate my ham biscuit that Great Grandmother had made for breakfast so we could leave early. She cleaned away the kitchen dishes so we could go; she never left a cup out of place when we left to do anything. I asked why the cousins, aunts and uncles from the reservation couldn’t just come visit us for Thanksgiving. She picked up her bag and hurried me out the door into the car and as we drove she began to tell me stories of years past and how so many of our family had been hurt and made to feel shame because they didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving like the other members of our family.
Though we gathered together during the holiday, it was not to celebrate the Pilgrims, Columbus or a Christian god. It was because it was a time we could all get together. People were off from work and able to come home for the holiday. Many of the men worked far away from home. When we were able to be together it was a time to honor our past and yes, give thanks.
As we drove, my Great Grandmother told me stories of her father and mother and the life she and her brothers and sisters had together as children. My Great Grandmother was the strongest woman I have ever known, but as she began to tell me of a time when she lost her brothers she could not speak. It was one of the few times I would ever see her cry.
That night, as the evening cooled, it was our custom to have a large bonfire so the adults could talk. Many of them would share their histories and stories of life and times I would never completely understand. I would learn about how to honor the Mother God and the Father God. I would watch the sky, as they would tell of the Star People who carried secrets of an ancient time. Each story, each history, more magickal than the last.
Then I asked, “What happened to my Great Grandmother’s brothers”? They just disappeared one day, never to return. A quiet came over the group. I watched as the adults looked to each other, some having a hard time swallowing as my Great Grandmother sadly began to tell me that it was not just her brothers, but many of the boys of the tribes that were taken away.
It seems that during this time, when my Great Grandmother was only a little child, people who believed they knew what was best for the children of the tribes -- that is how it was explained, that it was all for the good of the children and how they would be much better off to be away from the reservation and their traditions -- sent native children away to live with other people or to missionary schools.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Native American children and youths were taken from their families and shipped off to missionary schools or to families west who needed hands to help with work on farms as free labor. The children were usually immersed in European-American culture, their appearances changed with haircuts and clothing. They were forbidden to speak their native languages or use their traditional names, which were replaced by new European-American names. The experience of the schools was often harsh, especially for the younger children who were separated from their families. In numerous ways, they were encouraged or forced to abandon their Native American identities and cultures since the government paid religious societies to provide this so-called ‘education’ to Native American children. Investigations have revealed many documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuse that occurred during these relocations, even to include the death of many working on farms.
My Great Grandmother’s brothers were taken from their home along with other boys and placed on trains going west to work. As my Great Grandmother told of how they were pulled from her mother’s arms and her father beaten to keep him from interfering, I could see the pain she and the others around the fire felt. Softly I asked, “Where are they now, your brothers?” Slowly one of the elder uncles said, “Lost. They never returned.” My heart broke.
That night, I lay in bed, worried someone was going to come and take me away. Maybe that was why my Great Grandmother didn’t live in the reservation. I didn’t know. But I was angry and knew I (even at 7 years old) was ashamed of what had happened. The next morning I asked my Great Grandmother if our family, those on the reservation, still loved me. I was white, a towhead. I looked like ‘those people’. I began to cry as I asked why they didn’t get mad at me. I was the same as the people who took the children away.
My Great Grandmother took me up in her arms and held me so tightly I didn’t think I was going to be able to breath. She wiped away my tears and said it was not the color of our skin or the hair on our head that made us who we were. That came from our spirits and what the Mother God and Father God put into our hearts. Good people can be anyone; they don’t judge others but seek to learn from them no matter the differences.
That Thanksgiving I would play with my cousins, looking at them from time to time thinking that any one of them could have been taken away because of who they were. As we played making mud pies and shadow dancing across the fields, I could never get rid of the sense that perhaps the spirits of those lost children were playing with us as we ran. I am sure when I stood still I could hear them laughing in the distance. I think this was when I begin to understand the quiet loneliness I could see in my Great Grandmothers face this time of year.
In the evening, as the sun begin to set, we took the basket filled with corn, apples, berries, cream, honey comb and bread into the field by a large oak tree and carefully placed them with other items already there as a gift of thanks to all things. My Great Grandmother took me by the hand and told me this was a time, a tradition I should mark, along with the other holidays celebrated; a time I should always remember to give thanks, even for the sadness. As I stood looking into those dark eyes, she explained that our traditions are a blending of many. We are a part of those who came onto this land and those who stood here since time was time. That we are all like the seasons, a blending of colors, shapes and designs, picked by nature because we are each of gift unto each other.
I remembered my Great Grandmother telling me the stories of how our family, part of the Quapaw nation, had been forced to move to the northeastern Indian Territory. She would tell me how over time and the change of lands many lost their homes, some even their heritage. It would be many years before I would begin to understand a tiny part of what my Great Grandmother was telling me or of the blessings she shared with me by allowing me to grow up in such diverse cultures.
I will never forget that Thanksgiving when my Great Grandmother taught me that to give thanks you must give honor to all things, from the blessings seen to the sadness we learn from. For it is the pride of our past, and the truth found in all the gifts we have been given within this life that make us who we are. For those gifts, I will be forever and truly be thankful.
May we all find and know the gifts in our lives and be thankful.
Blessing to you all,
High Priestess Ravensgrove Coven
Copyright © 11192013
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Copyright: Lady Abigail
High Priestess Ravensgrove Coven
Copyright © 11192013
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