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I AM THANKFUL...


Thanksgiving used to be so simple before I realized the origin story was our nation's way of gaslighting its people into believing its carefully crafted history; one where the Pilgrims and the 'Indians' all sat down at the dinner table happy for the shared blessing of their union. As children, we made hats and collars, and Indian headbands out of paper as we learned about the wonderment that was Thanksgiving. Then, slowly but surely like shoddily pasted wallpaper the veneer peeled back, and low and behold, we find out that our story is filled with holes, curses, torture, and a whole lot of bloodshed.


When I was six or seven years old I asked my great-grandmother, Grammy Brown what we were, as kids in school were talking about being English and French, and so on. My grandmother told me to tell them I was French! This confused me a bit as I had never heard anything about it before, but had heard plenty of stories about Indians and Tinkers; something at the time I thought was someone who fixed things, sang a lot, and knew things other folks didn't. (Tinker is slang for Irish Traveler)


When my sister Sandy got into school and Thanksgiving came around she loved dressing up as an 'Indian' in fact she loved it so much, she brought her paper costume home and wore it around the house. One day while doing so my Grammy Brown happened to see her and got very upset. She quickly told Sandy that she needed to stop what she was doing because we don't tell people we are Indians.


As I got older, paid more attention, and kept asking questions, I found out that we were in fact, Not French. Instead, we were mostly Irish, and the flavoring we got was a good dash of Irish Traveler (Irish Gypsy), and Blackfoot (Indigenous American). Suddenly things made a whole lot more sense...like why my relatives were named things like Neil, Sheila, Carlisle, Isola, and Cora, and why Grammy Brown was always telling us stories about Indians. What I didn't understand was why she had hidden it from us, why we were not supposed to tell anyone.


Grammy Brown's mother Cora was born in Canada in the Blackfeet Nation. Her birth name which I do not know translates to 'Little Beaver'. She changed her name after leaving her people and marrying an Irish Traveler; my great-great, grandfather William Thomas, who had become a Canadian Mounty upon immigrating from Ireland. Long story short they moved to Vermont, Little Beaver changed her name to Cora and they lived in the middle of nowhere hoping to raise their family in peace. Grammy who was born in 1900, and her siblings spent many days fearful that they would be discovered as Indians and taken away to an Indian School. Learning this explained why my grandmother was so insistent that we did not let people know what we were. She was living with the PTSD of her own life growing up with the fear; that being seen as 'Other' was dangerous!


While I do not claim in any way, shape, or form that I have suffered the discrimination and abuse that Indigenous Americans have, I do feel the pain of it flowing in my blood. I feel the sadness of understanding the fear my relatives lived with. (We won't even go into the discrimination Irish Travelers have endured). I feel the complicated bitterness of being able to blend into society; as long as you keep your traditions private, and the elation of seeing a world that is striving to do better!


Thanksgiving is complicated for us all! It is no longer the Pilgrims and Indians sitting around a big festive table kind of event. In truth for most of us, it never has been really about the first Thanksgiving, instead, we celebrate what it morphed into... a celebration of family and community, and the bounty the Earth provides for us; the rich foods and laughter seasoning our lives with ancestral remembrance and the dreams of the living. It is a time to be thankful for all who walked the path before us, making it so we can walk as we do with ease.


Thanksgiving is a time to honor the dead, and the land spirits, and to give hope to those in need. When my kids were growing up we spent many Thanksgivings volunteering as a family at the local community dinner; cooking, cleaning, and serving those who have no other place to be. When gathering with family Thanksgiving is filled with laughter, love, and plenty of stories of those who lived before. We welcome our dead, we eat food they loved, sing their songs, smoke their herb, and dance about like the joyful Tinkers we are! But amongst all that joy, is a remembrance of Cora/Little Beaver, and Grammy Brown, and the terrible road they had to endure to bring us to this place.


I am thankful for the good Earth I walk upon

I am thankful for the Water that quenches my thirst

I am thankful for the Air that I breathe

I am thankful for the Fire that warms my home as Winter sets in

I am thankful for the ancestors who walked the road before me


This Thanksgiving set a plate for your Ancestors, and invite guests to add food to the plate that they think their ancestors would like. With every item placed on the plate, a story must be told of the Ancestor honored. Later in the day, should you decide to eat the last piece of pie sitting so invitingly on the Ancestor plate, know you must tell a story of an ancestor to claim it!


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