Sunday, May 17, 2009

Give Thanks, Mourn or Find a Middle Way?

Originally Posted on the Common Threads Blog
Centre Daily Times, November 20, 2007

Twenty years ago, I celebrated my first Thanksgiving as a graduate student at Penn State. I travelled by Greyhound to New York to visit relatives, and made my first trip to the Statue of Liberty.

I spent subsequent Thanksgivings mostly in State College, using the break catch up on work, and other pending matters. I spend the day in the company of friends and family, using it to pause and offer thanks for the circumstances of my life.

When my daughter was in first grade, she began to ask for more. She wanted to know what the menu for Thanksgiving dinner was going to be. We asked her what she thought it should be, and together fashioned a vegetarian menu that we use to this day.

She began to read about the origins of the holiday at school and in books, and we began discussing them. We started reflecting on the many sides of the same story, and how one group’s cause of celebration can be the cause of sadness for another.

The same Thanksgiving that is a national holiday, and occasion to give gratitude for many of us, is also marked by some Native Americans as a National Day of Mourning, and by other Native Americans as a day to focus on healing and going forward.

The Teaching Tolerance website gives two native American viewpoints of this festival, in a module for grades 7-12.

The first viewpoint is a speech written in 1970 by Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, a Wampanoag elder and Native American activist, for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 350th anniversary celebration of the Pilgrims’ arrival on Wamapanoag American Indian Land.

The speech, which was based on a Pilgrim’s account of the first year, was reviewed by the planners and deemed inappropriate to the tone of the celebration. Wamsutta decided not to attend the celebration and led a protest at Coles Hill, near the statue of Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag when the Pilgrims landed.

Thus began the First National Day of Mourning, in 1970, and which continues to this day.

The second article, Thanksgiving, a Native American View, is written by Jacqueline Keeler, another Native American, about how she has tried to give meaning to Thanksgiving.

The same day, commemorating the same event in history. And multiple experiences of that reality.

This year, my husband and I plan to take the Thanksgiving celebrations a bit further, by discussing these writings with our nine year old daughter. And understand better what debts we owe to our collective past, and what it is that we are or are not celebrating.

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