American Indigenous Peoples' Prayers and Poems about Thanksgiving
Squanto shows the pilgrims of the Mayflower how to plant corn and fertilize it with dead fish. Illustration circa 1930. Cci/Shutterstock.
Our Writing Team invites you to celebrate your Thanksgiving immersed in reading selected prayers and poems from American Indigenous People's perspectives about Thanksgiving.
JONATHAN GARFIELD - "Thanksgiving" (© 2018 version, original: 2013)
November 19, 2013 at 5:56pm Thank you for relocating relations, relocating their hearts, some forgetting or ashamed of their Indigenous roots.
Thank you for alcohol that now courses like blood through reservation veins.
Thank you for teaching our young, impressionable, heavily reserved minds your history and overlooking ours in reservation schools.
Thank you for Catholic boarding school surgeons painfully removing our Native tongue without anesthetic until our mouths bled English.
Thank you for that old white man in the white owned store on my rez that showed my 8 year old eyes the color of my skin as he stalked me like prey aisle-to-aisle, always a thief in his adult eyes.
Thank you for the bruises that covered my sister like war paint, painted by fists, baseball bat and a love created and mixed by your reservations, in wars she never won, dying every time.
Thank you for the U.S.D.A. approved diabetes that has stolen uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, fathers, my mother.
Thank you for BIA and its IHS replacing our ceremonial medicine with prescribed addictions that have now stolen so many visions on the rez that it’s hard to see what comes next.
Thank you for compulsory sterilization creating and rewriting so many stories forever left broken and unfinished.
Thank you for the children starving reservations wide, left alone and staying up late, hoping their parent or parents didn’t drink or shoot up all the check.
Thank you for the alcohol related car wrecks that have turned epic poems into tragic short stories.
Thank for the tiny white crosses plunged deep like hot knives into our land and the reservation roadsides that always claim another victim from families dying a little inside every time they drive past them.
Thank you for the F.A.S. and F.A.E. babies turned high school dropouts because the Caucasian teacher from a different world was never taught enough before coming to the rez to teach.
Thank you for the reservation suicides that have killed the spirits of those left behind.
Thank you for using us as mascots, making our young ones feel uncertain in their skin and redefining honor for them by turning us into a cold, unfeeling, symbol for a sports team where drunken fans honor us by mocking us.
Thank you for leading us on to reservations with no guidebooks on how to live in your world on our land, where we are still stumbling and learning, trial by heartbreaking error, to this day.
Thank you for your stereotypical portrayal of us in film and the movies where the white men are the heroes saving the Indians despite the Native-like titles like Dances With Wolves, Thunderheart.
Thank you for stealing our land, raping it like some woman you never knew the name of, leaving her crying, traumatized, bleeding. * * * Thank you for razing our homeland, cutting it up into states, poorly piecing it together and shrouding us in it like a quilt infested with smallpox.
I am thankful for all of this for making me feel too fucking much.
I am thankful for all of this turning me into a clenched fist in times when words don’t hit hard enough.
I am thankful for all of this, for stirring the spirits of warriors dormant in us for centuries.
I am thankful for all of this because without it, I could never write this.
Thank you for the artillery, arrows for my bow.
Wampanoag Prayer - ManyHoops
Portrait of Allison Adelle Hedge Coke photographer credit to Shane Brown email@example.com Brown is currently working in Oklahoma, a fellow Associate Fellow at Great Plains Center UNL and has shown on campus at UNL.
America, I Sing Back (© 2014)
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
for Phil Young, my father, Robert Hedge Coke, Whitman, and Hughes America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in. Sing back the moment you cherished breath. Sing you home into yourself and back to reason. Oh, before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep, held her cradleboard, wept her into day. My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery, held her severed cord beautifully beaded. My song helped her stand, held her hand for first steps, nourished her very being, fed her, placed her three sisters strong. My song comforted her as she battled my reason broke my long held footing sure, as any child might do. Lo, as she pushed herself away, forced me to remove myself, as I cried this country, my song grew roses in each tear’s fall. My blood veined rivers, painted pipestone quarries circled canyons, while she made herself maiden fine. Oh, but here I am, here I am, here, I remain high on each and every peak, carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth singing— and sing again I will, as I have always done. Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing the stoic face, polite repose, polite, while dancing deep inside, polite Mother of her world. Sister of myself. When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to cradle. Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light, day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to envision— Then, she will make herself over. My song will make it so When she grows far past her self-considered purpose, I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh, I will—I do. America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
Layli Long Soldier portrait.
Excerpt from: WHEREAS Layli Long Soldier
WHEREAS the word whereas means it being the case that, or considering that, or while on the contrary; is a qualifying or introductory statement, a conjunction, a connector. Whereas sets the table. The cloth. The saltshakers and plates. Whereas calls me to the table because Whereas precedes and invites. I have come now. I’m seated across from a Whereas smile. Under pressure of formalities, I fidget I shake my legs. I’m not one for these smiles, Whereas I have spent my life in unholding. What do you mean by unholding? Whereas asks and since Whereas rarely asks, I am moved to respond, Whereas, I have learned to exist and exist without your formality, saltshakers, plates, cloth. Without the slightest conjunctions to connect me. Without an exchange of questions, without the courtesy of answers. This has become mine, this unholding. Whereas, with or without the setup, I can see the dish being served. Whereas let us bow our heads in prayer now, just enough to eat;
Read the full poem "Whereas" here:
As a federal and popular celebrated holiday in the United States, Thanksgiving is known as the time of the year to celebrate the 1621 Plymouth feast of thankfulness for a good harvest or survival during a harsh winter for the Pilgrims. It was made possible by receiving food and skills from The Wampanoag and Patuxet tribes. The Wampanoag tribe faced incredible challenges due to dealing with several years of interacting with European explorers in which violence typically ensued. The eventual trading with the English, English enslavement of the Wampanoag people and their tribal clashes with the Narragansett tribe forced Ousamequin (aka Massaosiut Sachem 1581-1661) the Wampanoag tribe leader, to make an alliance with the English in efforts to stop the Narrangansett tribe's rivalry despite tribal opposition. Eventually, the English conquered the Wampanoag tribe.
Thanksgiving is known to be a time to celebrate what everyone is thankful for and to show appreciation for what we cherish, what gives us joy, protection, contentment and safety with family and friends, and where delicious meals are made and enjoyed together. We should feast with family and friends and have gratitude. However, careful consideration regarding the history of this holiday cannot be simplified or hidden. We can explore and deepen our understanding and practice of celebrating Thanksgiving by exploring and listening to the complex responses to Thanksgiving from American Indigenous Peoples' voices.
Thanksgiving" © 2018 version, original: 2013
Note: "Thank you" is not originally bolded.
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke- "America I Sing Back" Copyright © 2014 by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke. Originally published in Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database. Visit Allison Coke's personal webpage: https://hedgecoke.com/.
Excerpt from: Whereas
Layli Long Soldier