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Celebrating the Power of Plants for Conscious Living

Honoring Native American Traditions of Gratitude

by Faye Sakellaridis

Autumn is colored by a quiet but powerful vibration, one of gestation for the next spring's bloom. This time is energetically aligned with gratitude for the earth and her cyclic offerings, which is why a number of cultures observe a yearly Thanksgiving tradition around the harvest.

Unfortunately, the origin of the North American Thanksgiving is predicated on the grave mistreatment of Native Americans, making it a difficult holiday for many of us to celebrate in good conscience. One way we can remain sensitive to this difficult history without relinquishing a Thanksgiving ritual is to learn about and honor the ways that Native Americans practiced gratitude.

In this still relevant Huffington Post article, Kay Goldstein reminds us of an Iroquios prayer that gives thanks to the elements: 

An Iroquois Prayer
We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us. We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water. We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases. We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters, the beans and squash, which give us life. We return thanks to the bushes and trees, which provide us with fruit. We return thanks to the wind, which, moving the air, has banished diseases. We return thanks to the moon and the stars, which have given us their light when the sun was gone. We return thanks to our grandfather He-no, who has given to us his rain. We return thanks to the sun, that he has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye. Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his children.

And in this Native American history blog, we learn about different tribal ceremonies that honored the earth's gifts: 

Planting ceremonies were also important, as were dances and feasts to celebrate good crops. Among others, the Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Yuchi, and Iroquois tribes celebrated the Green Corn Festival, which marked the beginning of the first corn harvest. It was a time to thank Mother Earth and all living things for providing food and other usable items that made life good. The Maple Syrup Ceremony (late spring), Strawberry Ceremony (early summer), Bean Dance and Buffalo Dance (winter), are only a few of the times that Native Americans set aside to acknowledge their dependence upon the bounty of the earth.

The Iroquois particularly formalized times of thanksgiving, which would include a special Thanksgiving Address. A speaker was chosen to give thanks on behalf of all the people. The thanksgiving prayer then offered gratitude to the Creator for the earth and the living things upon it. The prayer could be quite long, encompassing specific things the speaker wanted to call special attention to, like birds, rivers, medicinal grasses and herbs, wind, rain, sunshine, the moon and stars, and so on.

Most importantly, we must remember that gratitude should not be compartmentalized into an annual slot in time, but cultivated year round. Native Americans routinely expressed thanks to the plants and animals that provided them sustenance and well-being. Being thankful is one of your most powerful spiritual tools, particularly in times of hardship. It doesn't mean you need to be passive about your grievances, but it does alleviate the pervasive negativity that prevents a balanced and healthy perspective on what you do have.