Whenever Thanksgiving comes around I flash back to second grade and those construction paper Pilgrim hats we used to cut and paste together. In those days, this pre-Christmas holiday meant nothing more to us than a four day weekend with a ton of food and, if we were lucky, some early snow to sled on.
Every public school in America teaches some rendition of the Thanksgiving story, but as often happens over the course of history, the facts have become skewed and much of the essence has been lost. While this late November holiday gives some credit to our Native American predecessors, it tends to overlook an important detail that is at the very heart of tribal culture.
During that cold autumn of 1621, the unfathomable hospitality that was shown by Wampanoag and Pawtuxet tribes to the Pilgrims was not a random act of kindness. It was actually the modus operandi for most pre-Columbian tribal communities when encountering strangers in need. To the early European settlers, this warm welcome was absolutely unexpected and is why we newcomers still celebrate the unlikely stroke of good fortune – but we’re missing a bigger point.
Upon encountering the frail and bewildered explorers from across the sea who were dying of malnutrition and exposure, why did the Wampanoag women so openly share their knowledge of the local flora of New England? Why did Pawtuxet men teach these desperate foreigners the tricks to hunting local game (which, by the way, was more often deer than turkey)?
It comes down to one word – respect. In Native American communities, one of the most fundamental teachings is that we must have unwavering respect for all living things, including other human beings. This single morsel of innate wisdom has been relied upon for millennia to steer communities in the direction of good, rather than fear-fueled mishap.
At some point in our lives, most of us are taught to be true to ourselves, to have patience, and to ALWAYS help others in need when we can, regardless of who they are. Yet, we often forget about this last item during our young and mid-adulthood, especially in today’s fast paced, career-oriented environment. Why?
Too closed off for compassion
In a properly functioning tribal structure, each individual has built in support – children are supported by parents who are supported by grandparents who have an intimate link back to the grandchild (a sacred triad!). The elders are not shipped down to Florida to spend their golden years detached from family. They are instead elevated to an honorary status in the household or village and relied upon heavily for their wisdom and ability to steer future generations in the right direction. In this system, everyone has someone to lean on and someone to care for.
By contrast, our western world is beginning to show alarming symptoms of a civilization that has forgotten how to care for itself. We are not looking out for one another as families the way we used to. We know more about the nuances of sitcom characters and professional athletes than those of our own loved ones. I have friends that could rattle off the starting roster for their favorite sports teams at the drop of a hat, but couldn’t tell you the hopes, dreams, and fears of their own nieces and nephews. Who are we without the support of the parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents – our true role models?
We get caught up in a daily grind that dilutes our perspective and warps our priorities. This isn’t a new story – survival has always been the name of the game – but our ancestors had something that many of us don’t. They had a close-knit family unit during their times of struggle – not only to give well seasoned perspective in times of strife, but also to keep an extra pair of eyes on the treasure that matters most – the young ones.
Something to celebrate:
More and more of us Westerners are looking to native cultures for insight on how to achieve a more conscious, connected, and healthy existence. Whether it’s through a shamanic practice, native nutrition (like the Paleo-diet), or another sacred wisdom tradition, these resurgent ancestral protocols are so innately “right” for us that they can be effective even when singled out and applied to an otherwise unnatural lifestyle.
The next step for those of us who want to take it to the next level is to begin looking at the whole picture, particularly the triangular family format of our ancestors, and apply this to our own lives.
We’re all in this thing together and what better time than now to let those you love into your heart? This is a holiday of extreme gratitude, so if you have the good fortune to be sitting across the dinner table from your dear ones tomorrow, join us in celebrating the elders who have always watched over us, and the young ones who are new to this awe-inspiring adventure called life!
“They’re my children. All children are my children. I teach them the songs and whatever else I can. That’s what Grandmothers are for – to teach songs and tell stories and show them the right berries to pick and roots to dig. No better job in the world than being a Grandmother!
– Leila Fisher, Hoh Tribe
“Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other,
thus should we do,
for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.”
– Black Elk, Sioux Tribe
“Everything I know I learned by listening and watching. Nowadays people learn out of books instead. Doctors study what man has learned. I pray to understand what man has forgotten. ”
– Vernon Cooper, Lumbee Tribe
Director, The Sacred Science
What knowledge and compassion showed by our native brethren we have mmuch to learn from them
Thank you , happy thanksgiving !
Thank you for this truly inspirational message!
The words of the elders make me shiver. They are with us always, whispering in and around us, offering to be our loving guides. My dream is that we as a society will wake up and embrace the wisdom of our tribal past.
Thank you so much at 87 years old this is the most insightful and constructive article I have read i years. I was blessed with a paternal grandmother whose songs and words of wisdom are with me every day.. I’m working on applying these with a beloved granddaughter and her first born tho they are thousands of miles away but she stays very close and even flew with this baby at eight months old so she could see and be seen by her grateful great grandmother
Lot’s of truth in this article about the native people. But why do Caucasians tend to overlook how these natives were repaid for their kindness? Probably for the same reason this very important detail was omitted in the first place. Unless you take responsibility for the destruction of the native people, and so many others, you will never know what it means to truly be human.
Thank you! I was expecting at least some mention of the aweful way the Native Americans were repaid for their kindness. Omitting the truth doesn’t make it go away or change history.
Thank you for a reminder of why I always loved Thanksgiving.
Beautifully said, Nick! Thank you for this really important reminder! I’d love to bring community to where I live as most of my neighbors do not have family here and all feel a bit displaced as a result. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how to do this. Be Blessed! -Lynette
And why wait until they pass away to tell people you love them and how much they mean to you? Open your heart and be vulnerable. Even if the love is not returned (and it will be), you will live on. Acknowledge your fears and the judgments you hold over others. Let them in. Welcome them and don’t let them control you. Remember that you are a child of Source, God, God-consciousness, the Universe (whatever you want to call it), therefore pure joy and love. Let love control your decisions. You do not need to condone someone’s actions to love them. They too are a child of Source even if their actions belie the fact.
Lovely article, Nick!
Thank you very much for giving me the real meaning of ThanksGiving!
Have a blessed day tomorrow!
Nick, as usual you touch on the tender spots. I am not American, live in Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean where Thanksgiving is unknown. I do have a few American friends and three of us will be having a Thanksgiving Sunday lunch – better than nothing! We don’t even have pumpkin pie! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours and a BIG thank you for all you are doing!
One of my greatest joys has been to share with young ones what I know of native plants as well as the peacefulness of just being with nature. Thanks for spreading the word!
Beautiful message.It is so true we have lost this sense of respect for elders. It is even more prevalent in the USA. Poeple over 50 can barely find jobs! I teach yoga in my community and try to bring back this sense of balance with all ages. It is so important to treat our elders with respect. But one question arises; do our elders respect themselves that they could tKae this role of knowingness? I am not so sure…
This is such an amazing article! I think we all could benefit from spending more time with the elders and children instead of in front of a TV or computer. I yearn for real, physical connection rather than the connection I get when trying to type out my thoughts wondering if those who read it will understand or be offended by my authenticity.
Thank you Nick for youf great conversation with Pedram Shojai on the Origins “Deep Dive” interviews yesterday. Yours was the first one I watched and I really appreciated your comments.
Thank you so much for this blogpost. It warmed my heart. I will be sharing it with my soul group friends today. I am Caucasian, age 74, and a trained shamanic practitioner. I am a busy woman…but I always make time for the grandkids, ages 7 through 28. I teach them how to meditate, how to tune into Spirit for guidance, and how to have respect for the earth and its people. Yes, I would like to move to the warmer climes of AZ…but refuse to do that. I want to stay around and be a wise elder for my family.
For me, to be more conscious, connected, healthy and have an unwavering respect for all living beings means not killing and eating a turkey or any other animal on thanksgiving and any other day.
Thanks Nick for your wisdom and the reminders of whats important in life. Happy Thanksgiving.
beautifully said dear brother…i give gratitude for my ancestors that have been here before me…so thankful for the love and loved ones around me…blessings to you ..
Nick, I traveled to northern Alberta to find a higher paying job. I decided a couple of weeks ago that I should be back where I belong, closer to my children and help my daughter and her husband with their two young children, the joy of my life. Upon hearing your message I know now that my decision is the right one. Bless you and thank you.
Whole hearted in agreement. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing this rich history with us. I’ll be sharing this tomorrow with our family. Happy Thanksgiving.
As grandmother said, we are given the precious gift of family, our most treasured possession. Enjoy your time together, listen to the stories and remember.
Blessings to all those who read your important message of love and compassion. May each of us continue to search for ways to honor each other and to live fully in the spirit of love and compassion. Thanks you and may joy continue to follow you path.
This expresses exactly why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I see it as the only true celebration. All the others have become rampant retailengorgements! Namaste
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful truth! Sadly, i don’t have a compassionate, supportive family who understands nor practices this.
Blessings to you this Thanksgiving!
I CAN TOTALLY RELATE —— HOW SAD FOR US AND SO BEAUTIFUL FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE
LOVING AND KIND FAMILIES. BLESS YOU !
Thank you Nick. Your dedication to old knowledge and understanding is our blessing.
Hello Nick, I watched your film last year and was touched. I have been working with Peruvian Amazonian healers for a long time and `i have set up a non-profit to share the gifts I received from the indigenous midwives and sisters who looked after me through two pregnancies in the Upper Amazon. The words of your Thanksgiving blog echo our mission statement nearly word for word. I am interested in contacting you and knowing more about what you are doing, thanks Francoise (www.birthlight.com) and University of Cambridge
Thanks, Nick for imparting what this holiday really represents. Happy Thanksgiving, all and long live the First Nation! With much love and gratitude.
happy thanks giving…love and peace to all our brothers and sisters. where ever you might be.
So well said and thoughts I have often felt in my heart and soul, especially in today’s society and world. Where and why did we take a wrong turn, and how do we get back to the essential, basic, compassionate, sustainable way of life…
I so appreciate your work and the wisdom that comes from your communications. Thank you! For this post I’ll respectfully push back a little bit on one point in the hope that dialogue will yield revelation. 🙂
My observation is that many of my friends are supporting their parents in ways that are, to be blunt, emotionally, logistically and financially oppressive. How do you cultivate the dynamics of the Triad when an elder is suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia, endless health concerns, mental rigidity/stubbornness or a unhealthy grip on the past?
Less dramatic but relevant: I am blessed to have a close relationship with my mother (who thankfully has none of the previous concerns) but she relies more on me than I do on her as she tries to navigate an unsatisfying marital relationship and some basic questions about her purpose and place at this stage in life. I don’t wish to sound arrogant, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to teachers (like yourself!) and philosophies that equip me to offer her wisdom that she hasn’t been able to access through her own experiences and spiritual life. My best friend has a similar dynamic with her mother.
I don’t observe people shipping off their elders to Florida; I see elders choosing to move to Florida or move away from their children because they are more comfortable in other geographic locations or wish a different pace of life.
Elders have a responsibility to cultivate practices that help them remain juicy and vibrant all their days. No one can do this for them. Within the blog post I hear the call to those of us in the middle — the 30 and 40 and 50 somethings — to snap out of it, to stop bowing to fast-paced society, and cultivate these connections. But I am at a loss as to how to do this given everything above and when I see so many elders falling down on their job of finding centeredness and showing leadership in their stage of life.
My strategy is to choose the best possible thoughts, hold a loving intention for the dynamics you describe to take root, pray, and stay in a state of happy expectations that as a society we will move toward these more helpful relationships. But what else can we do? Any insights you may offer are most welcome.
I am thankful for this interaction and wish you and all other readers many blessings. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thank you for this wonderful post! Happy Thanksgiving to all 🙂
What a wonderful and humbling story. May we live with that respect for all beings, familiar and unfamiliar.
,please remember that this happen two years after the 1st working free black man came to this country 1619 was the year
Thankyou – that was a very touching and wonderful story – one for all of us to pay attention to.
Have a very Happy Thanksgiving.
How very true,I sometimes we have forgotten the meaning of the Hoildays.
Very nice to remind us what real culture is.
Compassion that emerges from empathy.
Love has no repect of persons or shows indifference. This article is a good example of what we have lost in our societies. Let us come together in meditation and prayer. Having a spirit of graditude.
I know for a fact that my ancestors used some of these medicinal herbs, and I am looking forward to reading more about it. Thank you