WE’RE STILL HERE: 2012 – 2013 Wampanoag Powwow Princess Keturah Peters
November is Native American Heritage Month. It is also the month when most Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday is enshrouded in cartoonish mythology that brings up a number of conflicting feelings for many Native people. We are conflicted because we know that the American mythology is a lie. But, we also know that there are some fundamental truths hidden in the story.
When the Plymouth Colony was established, the English came into contact with the Native peoples of that land, the Wampanoag.
The Native people had lived on those lands for centuries. After generations of living with and observing the world around them, they had gained a deep understanding of their surrounding ecosystems. As a result, they knew when and where to hunt, fish and harvest medicinal plants and foods. They knew how to live in balance with the seasons and the natural flow of life.
The Native people treated the natural world with respect and a sense of reverence, because they recognized that they were only one strand in the larger web of creation. The Native people understood their role, not as caretakers of the Earth, but as caretakers of a relationship with the Earth and the entire creation. It is this relationship that allowed the people to not only survive, but to thrive on the lands where they lived. The Native people also recognized that through this web we are all related, so they valued community and maintained a sense of kinship with all other living beings. It was this sense of kinship that led the Wampanoag to reach out to assist the struggling Settlers. And, it was their established relationship with the land that allowed them to provide the Settlers with the knowledge and resources that they would need to survive.
As Native people, we recognize that our traditional way of life provides the key to our survival upon the Earth. It is this core truth that is hidden in the Thanksgiving mythology. Hundreds of years later, we still recognize that cultivating our relationship with the Earth, and demonstrating respect for all life, is the only way to ensure that the Earth will continue to provide a harvest for us to share. Therefore, we are thankful for what the Earth provides, not only on Thanksgiving, but every day of our lives.
As we approach this holiday season, many of us realize that we are facing some of the greatest threats that this world has ever seen. The destruction of our natural world is spiraling out of control. War is ravaging more than half of the planet. All across the Earth, people are living on the brink of extinction, and once again it is the Native people that hold the key to survival. Once again, it is our traditional way of life, with its understanding of interrelatedness and kinship, and its respect and reverence for all life that will guide humanity back from the brink. On Thanksgiving, as I sit down to enjoy a meal with my family, I will be sure to take a moment to be thankful; I will be thankful that the Earth is still providing us with what we need to survive, and I will be thankful that we are still here and that we still possess this beautiful way of life that we are able to share with all those that are willing to learn.