In her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer shares the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, Greeting and Thanks to the Natural World as she mediates on gratitude. Haudenosaunee (hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee), literally meaning “people who build a house,” is the name of the confederation of six Native American nations, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. The six nations are the Mohawk or Kanien’kehaka, Oneida or Onayotekaono, Onondaga or Onundagaono, Cayuga or Guyohkohnyoh, Seneca or Onondowahgah, and Tuscarora or Skaruhreh. While each of the nations has their own history and culture, one thing they all share is an emphasis on gratitude.
The Thanksgiving Address, sometimes also described as the “the words that come before all else,” is a daily reminder to appreciate and acknowledge all things. It is said before ceremonies, significant conversations, and every week at the Onondaga Nation elementary school Kimmerer visited and wrote about in her book. The address begins with the people:
Today we have gathered, and 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, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one.
It then continues with a litany of additional greetings and thanks to Earth Mother, Waters, Fish, Plants, Food Plants, Medicine Herbs, Animals, Trees, Birds, Four Winds, Thunderers, Sun, Grandmother Moon, Stars, Enlightened Teachers, and the Creator.
The Address reinforces the connection that people have to the world around them. It calls for a revolutionary way of life, one that begins and ends with gratitude. This in turn requires rethinking other aspects of life. Thus, Kimmerer points out, the Address is a “lesson in Native science” as it recounts each element of the world and its role (108). It is, likewise, a lesson in economics, recognizing a world of abundance, gift, and satisfaction rather than a consumer society that focuses on scarcity, commodity, and unmet desire (111). It is also a lesson in civics, reminding the community that “leadership is rooted not in power and authority, but in service and wisdom” (112). The Address is a call to remember the deep connections with all things. These relationships are reciprocal where each being has a duty to one another (115).
When Kimmerer initially asked the Haudenosaunee for permission to write about the Thanksgiving Address, she was told repeatedly that this was their gift to the world and was meant to be shared. November marks Native American Heritage Month in the United States. This observance is an opportunity to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and contributions of the indigenous peoples of North America. It is a perfect time to reflect on what the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address has to teach us. To learn more about Native American heritage check out the book display on the Library’s main floor as well as the display of juvenile literature on the first floor.