Acknowledgement and Gratitude for Indigenous Traditions

In the United States, the fourth Thursday in November is Thanksgiving Day. The contrasts between the myths of this as a day emerging from gratitude and happy fellowship between different cultures, and the realities of colonialism and genocide in the Americas, contribute to some complexities in celebrating this holiday. Yet Thanksgiving Day (and the following weekend, and indeed the holiday season) can be honored in ways that are truly in keeping with agaya and ubuntu.

Thanksgiving Day can be an opportunity for powerful new celebrations among Novasutras practitioners. It can be a day devoted to gratitude for all of the bounty of this sacred Earth. It can be a day to acknowledge the debts owed to indigenous peoples and traditional, place-based wisdom.

Giving Thanks Before All Else

Robin Wall Kimmerer explains the “Thanksgiving Address” (or “Words That Come Before All Else”) in the chapter “Allegiance to Gratitude” of her wonderful book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. This beautiful recitation could be adapted and adopted as a practice before Novasutras gatherings. It brings people into harmony for doing the work of a world abiding in agaya and ubuntu. As Kimmerer notes, do not regret when it goes on “too long” this just means that we have so very much for which we can be thankful!

The Thanksgiving Address

The “Thanksgiving Address” 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.

Braiding Sweetgrass (p. 107)

The recitation continues, thanking Mother Earth:

We are thankful for our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything 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.

Braiding Sweetgrass (p. 108)

It continues further, giving thanks for the Waters, the Fish, the Food Plants, the Medicine Herbs, the Trees, the Animals… there is truly so much for which we should express our gratitude!  You can also find a full version of the Thanksgiving address on the Native American Rights Fund site. There is a version in the original Haudenosaunee language as well.

If you don’t think the people you share your holiday feast with would appreciate the full Thanksgiving Address, you can start smaller. Here’s a quick, easy-to-share blessing (including a brief land acknowledgement), to inspire your own blessing this Thanksgiving or for similar celebrations.

Acknowledging Sacred Land

Often the indigenous humans of a place had a locally well-adapted culture that cherished and cared for the land. Their practices and beliefs made them well-integrated participants in local ecosystems. In the United States and other colonized parts of the world, cultures promoting exploitation and extraction displaced or eradicated these indigenous cultures.

We can choose to make the fourth Thursday in November a time to acknowledge this tragedy, and to honor those people who walked the land before colonial settlers arrived. It is important to take some time to learn about the indigenous people of the land where you are. That way, you can include something about them (especially their current work) in your land acknowledgement. A good place to start is the territorial map at native-land.ca. (North America, a.k.a Turtle Island, and Australia are the best mapped so far.) The Native Land team also created a teachers’ guide for using their map, plus a brief guide and additional resources for territory acknowledgement

A Feast of Unity

Thanksgiving Day celebrations in the United States typically include a feast with many dishes based on foods that originated in the Americas. Our vegan feast dish highlights the “Three Sisters” of Native American agriculture: corn, beans, and squash. This combination represents the strength, resilience and vitality we find in diverse communities of sharing, and truly celebrates ubuntu

The Three Sisters are a classic set of companion plants, traditionally planted together because they help one another grow.  The beans fix nitrogen in the soil to encourage the growth of all three plants.  The corn provides a tall stalk on which the beans can climb. The squash shades the ground to help retain water and prevent the growth of weeds.  These foods were shared by native farmers of the Americas with European colonists that arrived on their shores. Such acts of generosity saved many from starvation. So, for both botanical and cultural reasons, these three foods together can symbolize the concept of interdependence and the importance of community.

Sharing food is one of the most fundamental human expressions of ubuntu.

A lovely dish to celebrate ubuntu is this Three Sisters Novasutras Casserole, made with cornmeal, three kinds of beans, squash, and some greens. It is lovely and hearty, and makes a good ‘centerpiece’ option (even if your celebration includes only a few people in your “pod” this year).

Three Sisters Novasutras Casserole
  1. Start with a cornbread or polenta base. Add some mashed winter squash (acorn, butternut, or even pumpkin) and reduce the liquid in your recipe. (Here’s a gluten-free vegan cornbread incorporating squash.) Make enough cornbread or polenta so that it fills your round casserole dish about halfway when finished. (If you have blue cornmeal, make about a cup of porridge with this, and allow it to cool separately.)
  2. On top of your baked and cooled cornbread or polenta, you will create the Novasutras symbol with beans and vegetables. Make the outline with black beans. (Refried, mashed or blendered beans are easiest to apply, although whole beans could work if well-drained.) You may add a small dash of hot-sauce to your beans first (especially a dark chipotle-based sauce or molé), to give a little spice to this section. Make this outline come nearly to the top of your casserole dish.
  3. Mash or blender white beans (cannellini or navy beans). Use half to fill in the bottom, white section of the symbol.
  4. Blend the remaining white beans with blue cornmeal porridge or blueberries (or even just a handful of crushed blue corn tortilla chips). Use this to fill in the ‘blue’ parts of the symbol.
  5. Fill the brown ‘trunk’ of the symbol with refried beans (or pinto or other plain brown beans, which could be whole, blended or mashed). You may add a favorite red salsa or hot-sauce to give a little spice to this section. (Lots of leftover beans? Great, you now have the makings of a tasty bean dip — add salsa or hot-sauce and enjoy with chips or cut veggies!)
  6. Sauté your favorite dark, leafy greens (spinach, collard greens or white chard work well here). You might add a little onion and/or herbs, tomatillos or green chilies to your sauté, as well. In some places, you may also have access to some locally-grown green summer squash to add to your sauté. This completes the green ‘treetop’ portion of the symbol.
  7. Reheat the completed casserole just before serving. Enjoy as the center of a hearty feast with family and friends (as appropriate for safety, given the prevalence of COVID-19 where you are). Celebrate UBUNTU!

“…I am human because I belong, I participate, and I share. A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good…”

~Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Wherever you are in the world, please do pause for a moment (or better yet, an hour or two) on this Thanksgiving Thursday, and consider all the amazing and wondrous things for which you can be grateful in this beautiful world. Appreciate the bounty of beautiful food. Celebrate and enjoy the day with ubuntu and agaya!

What are you grateful for? How do you celebrate ubuntu and agaya?

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