I am reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a citizen of the Potawatomi tribe. The author is not only a Native American–in addition, she has a PhD in botany and is a decorated professor at SUNY. The book’s subtitle is “Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.” Those nine words don’t even come close to describing the insightful treasures it contains.
In one section she compared the Pledge of Allegiance (noting how Native Americans tend to choke on the phrase “liberty and justice for all”) to the Thanksgiving Address, known as the “Words That Come Before All Else.” The author describes it as the “ancient order of protocol [that] sets gratitude as the highest priority. The gratitude is directed straight to the ones who share their gifts with the world.”
The origin is with the Onondaga, a member of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, whose constitution was a model for our own. It’s a shame we didn’t adopt their other values as well. Consider how it begins:
Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.
Consider, if you will, how the USA might be a different country today if every session of Congress opened with that phrase. Would toxic partisanism be tearing this country to shreds? It continues:
We are thankful to our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love and respect. Now our minds are one.
Would we treat our planet with more respect if everyone began each day thanking the Earth? Would we drench our Earth Mother in pollution? Would we strip-mine her resources?
We give thanks to all of the waters of the world for quenching our thirst, for providing strength and nurturing life for all beings. We know its power in many forms–waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans, snow and ice. We are grateful that the waters are still here and meeting their responsibility to the rest of Creation. Can we agree that water is important to our lives and bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to the Water? Now our minds are one.
Native American prophecy declared a century or more ago that the day would come when people would have to buy water. The possibility seemed ludicrous. Yet here we are. Who would dare drink directly from even the remotest mountain stream?
The Thanksgiving Address continues to include all of nature: The Fish life in the water…the Food Plants…Medicine Herbs…the trees…animal life…the birds…the Four Winds…the Thunder Beings…our oldest Grandmother, the Moon…the enlightened teachers…the Creator.
I invite you to read this beautiful testament in its entirety at the end of this post.
Then consider that the people who created this literary work of love and respect were referred to as savages, simply because they fought to keep their ancestral lands. Thousands of women and children were massacred by the military. Treaties were broken by the U.S. Government as a matter of course, “the Indian problem” ultimately solved by forcing them to remote reservations on uninhabitable land. Their languages and customs were outlawed, their children stolen, and “re-educated” in boarding schools where their hair was cut off and their mouths washed with soap for speaking their own tongue. Even today the poorest counties in this supposed “great” country are found on reservations.
Where would we be today if the white man had assimilated their way of life, if our minds had become one? Modern peace chiefs have gone before Congress and the United Nations, warning them where the world is heading to no avail.
Meanwhile, indigenous prophecies relative to the fate of this nation are being fulfilled before our eyes. Their accuracy is startling.
How different it could have been if our minds had been one.