Tuesday, November 20, 2012

RE-thinking Thanksgiving

As Unitarian Universalists we are called by our theology and our history to create beloved community. The work of creating community includes deep, deliberate and thoughtful consideration of the traditions and practices we teach and pass on. Re-thinking Thanksgiving, and the stories that are taught along with it, is an opportunity to consider some of these stories.

With Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, we have a strong cultural narrative repeated in many places. It goes something like this:  Columbus discovered America. Eventually, white Europeans settled here in what we know as the Northeast, aided  by Native Americans, who were acknowledged in the first Thanksgiving celebration.

For children, these stories are often the first stories they learn about encounters between different cultures and races. These stories are, by and large, narratives of “progress” and the “manifest destiny” of white Europeans to inhabit this space.  They are full of inaccurate, racial stereotypes that do a great disservice to Native peoples and to the actual stories.

Columbus did not discover a land any more than Romans discovered the lands they conquered. He committed genocide of the entire native population he first came into contact with. Based on the stories by historians and biographers who admired him, Columbus was brutal and cruel. Do we really want to celebrate this story in this way? Around the United States, many communities have begun celebrating Indigenous People's Day instead of Columbus Day.

The stories of European conquest and Native American resistance are far more complex and relevant to our lives today.  They are stories of resistance and endurance and connection.

There are stories of the Iroquois League of Nations as one of the first examples of democracy. The peoples who became known as the Iroquois united under a man called the Peacemaker. They continue even today to teach these stories that speak to peace as a way to resolve conflict and support the health of the earth and the next seven generations of humans to come.

We can acknowledge a troubling past as way to move forward. We can also acknowledge that Native peoples are still here, living in towns and cities, as well as some of their ancient ancestral lands.

In upstate New York we have a rich heritage, thanks in part to the Iroquois, of democracy and peacemaking. These are stories full of gratitude for the earth, the air, the water, animals and humans. 

2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the first agreement between Europeans and American Indian Nations of Turtle Island (North America.) Recorded on the Two Row Wampum belt, is a covenental agreement that the peoples live in friendship, peace and in parallel, “as long as the grass is green, as long as the rivers flow downhill and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.”

FUSS Religious education will be participating in the Two Row WampumRenewal Campaign: Honoring Native Treaties/ Protecting the Earth. We can learn the stories from this land and be grateful for all that we have here.