By Anonymous (not verified) on November 25, 2009

This Thanksgiving, as an Ojibwe woman, I will grieve for what Europeans did to native peoples here. But I will also give thanks for life.

I will grieve because Europeans killed most of us quickly and directly at first and later resorted to more cunning means of forced assimilation, such as boarding schools and discriminatory land allotment. It is estimated that there were between 7 million and 10 million indigenous individuals inhabiting what is now America at the beginning of European contact in the early 15th century. By 1900, there were only about 230,000 of us left.

Some might wonder why a Native-American woman would give thanks on a holiday that highlights the beginning of the end for many tribes. I give thanks because that’s what we Ojibwe do. We express gratitude for the great gift of life given to us by the creator.

Traditional Ojibwe religion is deeply rooted in the understanding that life, ever moving, ever changing, is a tremendous gift. This understanding dates way back before the days when the Wampanoag Indians sat down with the Pilgrims for that now famous meal.

We also understand that there is no escaping life’s relentless nature. We are leaves on a tree, in various states of growth. At some time, we will turn color, fall from the tree, swirl colorfully around some kid’s feet and join the soil once again.

We Ojibwe know that we have absolutely no choice but to celebrate this fact. We begin all of our prayers, for all events, big and small, public and personal, with “migwiich” — thank you. We thank the creator for letting us be here and for giving us the gifts that allow us to live this life.

I’m not sure the Pilgrims really “got” this concept. In reading historical accounts of interactions between early Europeans and Indians, I note that the Indians wondered at the childlike, greedy nature of the visitors who seemed to have a strange fantasy that they could permanently “own” the Earth. The Indians laughed at the notion that life’s inexorable movement might somehow be staved off by owning stuff.

As the Europeans’ true intentions began to emerge more fully, the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Indians quickly deteriorated. Years of bitter fighting ensued. After one battle between the Powhatan Indians and the settlers, members of the tribe stuffed the mouths of the dead settlers with dirt, a potent message.

In many ways, not a lot has changed for the American psyche that allowed early settlers to kill off Indians who got in the way of their plans. Americans still really lke to buy and own stuff. Unfortunately, pretty much everything takes second place to that same mission of owning — of eating — the Earth.

Here at my house on Thanksgiving, we will offer up our gratitude to the creator before digging into a “traditional” meal of turkey and all the fixings. We will say migwiich for our food, our family and the day off. On “Black Friday,” we will sleep in late and loll around in bed with our kids.

You see, Ojibwe know that when we look back on our lives, nobody ever wishes they had gotten up earlier for the sale. We may wish we had embraced life more fully and celebrated it more enthusiastically.

So on Thanksgiving, we do say migwiich, and we definitely eat the pumpkin pie.

Mary Annette Pember, Red Cliff Ojibwe, is past president of the Native American Journalists Association. She currently lives and works as an independent journalist in Cincinnati. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

Subscribe to The Progressive and Get A Free 2015 Calendar

Malala Yousafzai meets with the Obamas. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

When Yousafzai left the White House, she was whisked away to speak at the exclusive private school that the...

Mauldin cartoon from the Chicago Sun-Times depicts Fidel Castro musing to a portrait of Karl Marx, "I'll bet you never had to deal with Cubans."

From our 1963 archive, this piece explores the tension between the United States and Cuba after the Bay of Pigs...

Chris Christie excoriates a teacher in front of a crowd.

It’s become difficult for Christie to continue to blame his failures on teachers and their unions; and yet, like a...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter