Native American Heritage Month: Remembering to Remember

See here on giving back to Native peoples (as they are struggling to protect their lands at Standing Rock).


In Braiding Sweetgrass  Indigenous botanist Robin Kimmerer relates the native teaching that the purpose of ceremony is to “remember to remember”.  That is a good guide for our upcoming US Thanksgiving ceremony.

Our modern worldview too often sees humans and nature in conflict– with the disastrous results of climate change and use of toxins that poison our own brains. In this context, it is important  to remember that there is another value system we might chose — and with it a history of successful relationship with the natural world.

Thankfulness is essential to that value system–and integral to the strikingly successful heritage in which humans lived together with other lives on this land for thousands of years.

As Kimmerer reminds us:

“You can’t listen to the Thanksgiving Address [of the Onondaga Nation of New York State) without feeling wealthy. ” That address elaborates thanks for the people, the plants (with special additional thanks for food and medici9nal plants as well as trees) , the land animals, the fish, the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the four winds, the thunder, the enlightened teachers, the Creator–and any other aspect of life that this homily might have left out.

Kimmerer continues:

“And while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumerist society, contentment is a radical proposition. Gratitude doesn’t send you out shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift, rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy. That’s good medicine for land and people alike.”

The practice of gratitude, along with partnership with natural systems and respect for one’s place in past and future generations led to what Kimmerer terms the Honorable Harvest that cared for the land while it sustained the people.

Together these values and practices created abundance and biological diversity on indigenous-tended lands over thousands of years.

Seventy five per cent of the food and fiber we use on a global scale today was originally cultivated by native peoples of the Americas, who managed their landscapes organically and sustained themselves while fostering habitat for other lives.

Many of the essays posted here detail such management practices on the part of the Pacific Northwest’s First Peoples.  This essay tells another part of the story:  the ways in which pioneer emigrants were welcomed into this landscape by its native inhabitants.

In fact , without the generosity and expertise of Native peoples, pioneers would never have gotten here in the first place.  It wasn’t just the famous guide of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Sacajawea. Chief Sealth guided David Maynard and his party to Elliot Bay, where they founded Seattle.  That land was cleared and suitable for building because the native people had situated their own houses there, like Old Man House on Bainbridge Island, which was hundreds of feet long with over forty living apartments.

Tillamook elder Ilga showed pioneers the best farmland on Tillamook Bay, where the dairy cooperative, Tillamook Creamery is today.  It was good farmland because the Tillamook carefully tended it to encourage fertile grazing land for deer and elk.

Other pioneers settled in Upper Chehalis territory, following the guidance of Indians traveling near the mouth of the Columbia River, who came upon an emigrant family trying to drain a swamp and guided them to Upper Chehalis territory where there was more suitable farmland.

Once the pioneers arrived in the Northwest, native peoples continued to transport them and their goods and mail. Anson Dart, first Indian Agent of Oregon Territory, pleaded that Indians not be removed from territories west of the Cascades (the current Congressional plan), since the pioneers sorely needed the Indians to do “all the boating on the rivers”. Phoebe Judson, whose family worked a claim in Upper Chehalis territory before they moved on to Nooksak territory on the Upper Puget Sound, wrote in her journal that “one was perfectly safe in the hands of an Indian”.  By contrast, “Occasionally a white man came along who, thinking he knew more than the Natives, would insist on assuming control-sometimes with very disastrous results”.  Judson cited the case of Captain Barstow and G. N. McConnaha who overrode Indian advice about the safety of traveling in particular weather-and all members of their party drowned.

Indians were also responsible for communication between pioneers isolated on their claims. Thus Bob Hunter related that the pioneers of his grandfather’s era, who came across the Plains when there were “buffalo as far as you could see in three directions, “were always happy to see an Indian” because of the news they brought of other settlers.  Everywhere in Western and Eastern Oregon Territory, pioneers echoed this view with respect to Indian mail-carriers.

That was not the only reason to be glad to see an Indian. Relying on the Indians for food was a tradition begun by Lewis and Clark. When they left the Columbia River on their return trip east, they prudently stocked up on provisions, since they were coming into a territory with fewer Indians-fewer Indians from which to obtain food. Astoria traders settled at the mouth of the Columbia in the first decades of the 1800’s suffered deprivation when the Indians temporarily abandoned the area due to an altercation with the traders. “For want of their aid”, the traders “suffered considerably”, one of them wrote.

Having traveled through the seasons of good weather, wagon train pioneers arrived on the verge of winter with all their provisions gone. Indian traders who frequented the Columbia River brought familiar foods to incoming emigrants on the Oregon Trail-such as Elizabeth Goltra’s family, who were supplied with potatoes and peas by some Nez Perce Indians near Mt. Hood in 1853. If their case followed that of most Willamette Valley pioneers, the Goltra family would continue to be provisioned by the land’s first peoples when they arrived at their destination.  In Linn County, pioneer testimonies of Milton Hale, John McCoy, John Crabtree and several others, “Indicate that the Indians prevented starvation among the whites when the food ran out.”

Pioneer recollections of the generosity of Indians toward incoming emigrants were often touching. Near The Dalles, Loren Hastings’ family camped and waited for Indian transportation downriver.  While they were there a young Indian girl gave his father shoes for his bare feet. In Hastings’ words: “The little Indian girl drew from her dress a pair of very fine buckskin moccasins trimmed with beads which she fitted lovingly on the barefoot child.”

Just as the Iroquois Confederacy modeled the Articles of the Confederation for the thirteen US colonies, early pioneers participated in and learned from Native forms of government and cultural practices in the Pacific Northwest.  Sarah McAllister grew up on Nisqually council grounds where Leschi invited her family to settle. She wrote: “There were not enough [non-Indian] people to think about forming a government of their own.”  Therefore, the McAllisters “lived under Indian rules.”

When the James family moved onto Grand Mound Prairie in Upper Chehalis territory, they were the only residents except for the Indians, who had a fishing station a mile from their claim. The James family had originally fled England, where oppressive laws ousted farmers from their land.  When they arrived on Grand Mound, they recognized indigenous peoples who shared their democratic ideals. The local Indians wrote Anna Maria James, were “real aristocrats” as opposed to the presumed royalty of the England they had fled.

According to the journal of her daughter, Mary Ann Frances James Shepherd, their little pioneer cabin was “almost swamped by the Indians crowding in”. These Indians were “friendly and kind-hearted”, though the Chehalis made it clear that the James’s were their guests-and it was only with their permission that they were allowed to stay on.  As John Roger James wrote, the Indians liked to trade with them, but continued to insist the land was theirs (emphasis his) until his father doctored them through a smallpox epidemic.  After that the Indians officially chose to share their land with the James family, as a delegation of Chehalis came to their cabin one morning in 1853 to tell them, “As he had been good to them, giving them “Lemichine”, (medicine in Chinook jargon) and saving many of their lives.”

This set up the reciprocity that was essential to the ethics of local Native peoples. When a James family child tragically died of disease, they tore a board off the roof of their house to provide him with a coffin. Such reciprocity learned from the Indians was called “salmon interest” by the local pioneers. Accordingly, whenever a pioneer gave or loaned something to a local Indian, it would be returned with a large shiny salmon for “interest”.

When Ezra Meeker went on an extended trip, leaving his wife and two babies on a little island near Steilacoom, he arranged for a neighboring emigrant to look in on them.  The neighbor did not follow through, but all turned out well, since a local Indian woman took the initiative to come twice weekly to their house “with little gifts” when he was away, checking on his wife and children and seeing to their needs.

Women and children were often alone on their claims while men were off logging-or following the Gold Rush that one pioneer opined nearly emptied the Willamette Valley of its entire male pioneer population.  Such women-headed families elicited the sympathy and support of native peoples, as illustrated by an incident that took place near Cedarville, Washington. One day an Indian appeared at the door of their cabin and made hand signs to the mother and children in residence.  Unable to make them understand him, the Chehalis man walked into their cabin and took down a rifle that hung on the wall, along with three cartridges, and walked out again.  In a few moments, he came back with a deer slung over his shoulder, which he left for the hungry family.  He returned two unused cartridges along with the deer.

A number of emigrant children were mentored and even adopted outright by indigenous peoples-from the Sacramento Valley to the Olympic Peninsula in Nina Baumgartner’s story told here.  Siuslaw man Andrew Charles, was “a man to remember”, according to Norman Dick, who considered him his “godfather”.  On days when Dick was “cross” or “when  my mother was busy doing something else… he would gently take me in his arms and walk out to the creek where the water was talking and laughing as it was playing among the rocks.  He would sit on a log near the creek bank and hold me firmly in his arms. To the tune of the wind singing in the treetops, he sang softly low-toned Indian songs in a deep, tender voice.”

Andy instructed Dick to “Sit still and be quiet, and listen to this stream tell its story.” No two streams sounded alike, he told him. Indian children taught this wouldn’t get lost.

It was such knowledge of the land that Native peoples exhibited everywhere.  Along the Oregon Coast from Tillamook to Yachats, from Siuslaw to Umpqua, and from Coos Bay to Northern California, early ethnographer John P. Harrington found a “foot-by-foot” understanding of the land linked to the ancestral names of their places on the land.  This was so consistently rooted in generations of tradition that Harrington opined that an Indian “map of the coast” specifying tribal residence in 500 A. D. would replicate one made at the time of Lewis and Clark.

It was such knowledge Native people were kind enough to share when they guided, fed, taught and nurtured pioneers who became neighbors to them.

Native American Heritage Month is an essential follow up to Thanksgiving:  time to thank the land’s first peoples for their part in US history-to celebrate their generosity and their ancient belonging to their lands.

We would do well to help heal the injustices of our past by following through on the reciprocity Native peoples historically modeled for pioneers in the Northwest by supporting their modern bids for self-determination.


According to native traditions, plants serve as our first teachers, as they have lived in natural systems much longer than humans.

Accordingly, there are different ways to be immigrants–as Kimmerer sees in the models of different plants.  Thus “immigrant” plants like plantain with its healing nature and its ability to live in ravaged habitat, tucking itself into small areas where it modestly  fits in, show us how to be ethical immigrants– as opposed to plants like kudzu that overrun entire habitats, strangling all but themselves.

Kimmerer also reminds us that it is the responsibility of the immigrant to become indigenous to their place– which to her means honoring the past and its store of knowledge (including that built up over time in the inter-related lives of natural systems)– and our responsibility for the future in our attention and choices.

There is a powerful message of hope in both indigenous ecological  values and their empirical success. Thanksgiving is a good time to remember to remember that.


Here are words from the presidential proclamation on Native American Heritage Month (November):

“For millennia before Europeans settled in North America, the indigenous peoples of this continent flourished with vibrant cultures and were the original stewards of the land. From generation to generation, they handed down invaluable cultural knowledge and rich traditions, which continue to thrive in Native American communities across our country today. During National Native American Heritage Month, we honor and celebrate their importance to our great Nation and our world.”

As we honor these traditions, Congress might also consider the fact that the land’s first people prioritized consensus decision-making, in which all voices were heard and considered for the sake of those to come after us.

Here are the words of the National Native Heritage  law itself:

“Congress encourages the people of the United States, as well as Federal, State, and local governments, and interested groups and organizations to honor Native Americans, with activities relating to—

(1) appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities to observe Native American Heritage Day;
(2) the historical status of Native American tribal governments as well as the present day status of Native Americans;
(3) the cultures, traditions, and languages of Native Americans; and
(4) the rich Native American cultural legacy that all Americans enjoy today.”
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Happy Thanksgiving to You All!

90 Responses

  1. The stories of how kind the Natives were to the newcomers is heartening and simultaneously sad to me. Heartening because some of the Europeans were able to live among the Natives and appreciate their kindness and generosity; sad because eventually the Europeans overwhelmed the Native populations and didn’t reciprocate the kindness shown to them.

    The newcomers were content to benefit from the Native’s knowledge and food, but not enough to protect them from the flood of people moving in and taking their land.

    This is a great article with wonderfully stories that I want to share with my children this Thanksgiving. I also am going to share it with my sister who just asked me yesterday if I knew of any stories about ‘gratitude’ that she could share with her kindergarten class…the example of the little Indian girl giving shoes to the little boy would be fitting for young kids to hear. Thanks for sharing these stories at this time of year.

    • Hi Sandra, thanks for your comment–and for passing these stories of gratitude onto to young children. This is where the stories of how we might get along with one another–and the story of our past seldom told except in oral history– can best be passed on.
      Perhaps if we all pass on such stories in the way you suggest we can heal the grief that you note comes with our general lack of reciprocating the generosity of native peoples in our past.
      I too love the story of the Native girl’s spontaneous generosity in slipping beautifully worked shoes on the barefoot pioneer child’s feet.

  2. It is interesting to think about the trust extended by Native Americans and the trust accepted by the western colonizers with regard to sources of nourishment that existed in the local landscape. I have found it particularly interesting that while Lewis and Clark’s reliance on Indians for food on their trip back east, the party never did feast on the bountiful salmon that Indians pointed them to while they were in the Pacific Northwest. It is my understanding that a couple of people in the party became ill, presumably from the salmon, so subsequently no one ate it afterward, relying on the purchase of dogs for food instead. This is a bit baffling, but probably not unlike us today who either reject something new outright, or try something new, if we are brave enough to do so, and then reject it. When I was in Asia, I came across Durian, a very smelly fruit that I was told people either loved or hated. Folks told me to try it three times before forming an opinion, which I did. But I’m afraid I landed on the “hated” end of the spectrum. Cultures around the world eat things that are not on my weekly grocery list: eels, snake’s blood, monkey brains, baloot (edible unborn duck), to name a few. Would I take myself to the brink of starvation before eating any of them? Well, there’s a question!

    Perhaps daily life was hard enough for western explorers and pioneers that it was tough keeping an open mind and going beyond what diet they were used to to be able to feed themselves with the new resources in their unfamiliar landscapes. It makes me wonder how humans first learned of the food sources available in their landscapes before there were other humans there to help the “newbies.” Likely, it was watching animals forage for their own food, then mimicking them by trying it out in the human community. What a long discovery and sorting process that must have been for our prehistoric ancestors!

    • Actually, as to Lewis and Clark– Dr. Clark remarked on the excellent dried salmon of the mid-Columbia, where the winds allowed superb trying conditions– so somebody must have been eating it on the expedition!
      Some pioneers did reject the fishy smell of those who spent time processing fish– but most ate it: thus the “salmon interest”.
      I think it is more a matter of not knowing what plants, for instance, one could depend on locally. I did hear about a pioneer family eating a kind of fruit in the midwest along the Oregon Trail (other pioneers shared it with them) that made them sick, since they were so hungry for fruit, they over-indulged. As many came hungry over the Cascades, Indians told them the huckleberries and salal berries were edible– before that emigrants were afraid to eat them, but after that they were grateful indeed.
      As a matter of fact , the Chehalis smoked eels, which they cooked in such a way that they were favored as a trade item throughout the area.
      Some native people have said or written that it wasn’t a matter of trial and error as far as deciding what to eat–but that the plants “told” them– I assume that wasn’t a communication in English, but some other cues that came to them. After all, animals (except for domesticated cows who eat things like tansey) don’t eat poisonous plants.
      And many pioneer children were taught how to dry salmon by native neighbors who were very particular that this be done right. I have not a single story that I heard or read anywhere of anyone getting sick from eating native–processed salmon. Though there plenty of other things to get sick from on the Oregon Trail– like cholera, which spread throughout wagon trains in a manner that terrified the emigrants.

      • I stand corrected on salmon history, and am glad that at least someone in the Lewis and Clark’s party partook of this lovely food in dried form. Yes, observing what animals eat would make for an important cue as to a possible plant’s viability as a food source. I don’t think it was trial and error either. In any case, having “cultural informants” — the Native Americans — was vital to survival. And it is a good time to be thankful for that in this season of feasting.

  3. It is so sad to hear the stories of generosity that local natives displayed towards the settlers. To think that our government, which was founded on principles of equality, could round-up the natives and put them on reservations just as they would domesticated animals! How people can think so supremely of themselves above other humans is beyond me. And to think that this thinking still goes on in some countries still today! I wonder what it is that makes a person think in such ways? Is it a result of bad parenting or brainwashing or is it just a way to survive?

    • Thanks for your comment, Kelley. I think there is greed and ignorance involved… time to change that. And one of the ways to do that is tell the real story of our history–and to learn from our past.
      I do think there is some healing to do regarding our history– what suggestions do you have in this regard?

      • I think that Native American’s should be allowed to take natural resources from our public lands for personel use, free of charge, as long as it is done in a sustainable way. I think there should be a national holiday, like Veterans day, for Native Americans.

        • Hi Kelley, all of us are actually able to take resources from public lands for personal use with permits– which brings up another point. Native peoples in the Northwest have had trouble with the US forest service and BLM policies of herbicide spraying. It has made some camas gatherers sick–and changed the ability of traditional basket materials like bear grass to take natural dyes. Taking poisoned materials from public lands for ceremonial purposes defeats their sacred purposes: there are more reasons than one to change our pesticide use policies on public lands.
          And I think a national “Native Americans” day is a great idea! And Congress agrees: this year Native American Heritage Day falls on the day after Thanksgiving. Commemorating this heritage is something better to do than running after consumer bargains on this day!

  4. There is much to be thankful for when we think back on what Native Americans had done for the white settlers who were first moving into territory that was occupied by the natives. Had not been for the generous hospitality and willingness to teach the pioneers survival skills there is no telling where we would be today. It is definitely true that Lewis and Clark could not have made it without the guidance of Sacajawea who was an expert in the landscape that they were trekking. Then there was the James family who established a system of reciprocity with the Chehalis people and through balanced understanding and kindness they were able to survive. Unfortunately such situations have not always taken place; especially in cases of controlling white men who have thought they knew better about foreign lands than that of the careful knowledge of native people who flourished off that land for centuries.

    There is certainly much to be thankful for with each passing year; family, friends, and even those who we do not know. However, it is important that we remember the good deeds that the Native American peoples willingly extended our way even though they didn’t have to. The goodwill extended by Native American Indians should forever be recognized as they contributed so much to the progression towards what our lifestyles are today.

    • Thanks for your comment, Erin. I appreciate your own sense of reciprocity in the perspective you present here. I agree with you that we should remember the goodwill extended to our ancestors on this land– certainly we owe a return on this in terms of justice.

  5. I enjoyed reading the accounts of the western natives during this Thanksgiving holiday season. The stories of pilgrims and Plymouth Rock are much more prevalent as the first Thanksgiving. Its nice to read about the cultures that are closer to where I live. Thanks.

  6. I can’t believe that I don’t already know of stories such as these. There are many Native American stories that we are not taught in our schooling. I believe that we are not taught enough about our native history/heritage in our schools, at least I don’t think that I was.
    The Native people seemed to be so giving and good to the land, why haven’t we followed with these traditions. Yes, the land that the Tillamook creamery is on has amazing soil because of the Indians, but could we have sustained that practice? I feel like we are so wasteful and unthankful for many of the things we have that other countries would die for.
    Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to be thankful for all that we have, but we should be thankful always for the everything around us.

    • I like your point that we shouldn’t have to wait for one day a year to be thankful for everything around us, Kelly. And as you indicate, we need to tell more of the whole story of our history in schools– to learners of all ages. I hope you help pass some of these stories on yourself. Thanks for your comment.

  7. The generosity exhibited by the Native Americans makes it mind boggling the “reciprocated” treatment of the Natives by the whites. It just goes to show which civilization was the most evolved- and it wasn’t the whites. I’ve always wondered why the Natives showed such grace, kindness and generosity to the whites, instead of being hostile and cruel. I’ve also wondered if they knew what type of treatment was headed their way, if they would have been more hostile. Now I don’t think they would have done anything differently. It’s because it was their nature and the way they were taught and live. I admit this class has introduced this idea and reinforced it, many times over (that’s not a bad thing, either)

    It saddens me to think how Native Americans were treated by the whites and it saddens me they don’t have the (perceived) influence and freedoms today. I now realize they may not have the same values as whites, but that doesn’t make them any less free.

    I was unaware November is Native American Heritage Month. That’s a fabulous idea! And very fitting too, as that’s when Thanksgiving takes place- though I understand that is not the original date. Hopefully, as the climate changes and we look for different methods of sustaining the world’s population, we can begin to learn from various indigenous cultures and realize just how much knowledge they have.

    • Hi Christy, thanks for your comment. Perhaps you will find the opportunity to pass along some bit of information to others in order to honor this month! Greed (and insecurity and fear) can make us blind to a great deal– once we open our eyes, it is my hope we can work together on such things as climate change– an imperative you rightly mention.

  8. This article shows that not all stories are bad where the settlers and Native Americans are concerned. There will always be people in the world who want to coexist together, just as there will be people who would rather not. My pessimistic side hopes that the violence of the latter will not bring down the everyone, while my optimistic side is hopeful that the former will rub off their ways onto others. Kindness can be contagious. We all need to remember to bring cheer and goodwill upon others all year, and not just during the holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

    • Thanks, Jennifer. Happy Thanksgiving to you and all reading this as well. There is much to learn in these important in our history– we do ourselves as well as native peoples a disservice to exclude such stories from our history.
      I hope that our future comes out on the side of the musings of your more optimistic self with the aid as we each work to pass on the kindness and wisdom modeled by those in these stories.

  9. I have always been fascinated by the ways of early native americans, how they lived off the land and used every bit of it. It’s so sad how badly they were mistreated especially for the fact of all the generosity they displayed toward settlers.

  10. These are heartwarming stories of the original people from my homeland. I love hearing about the people that were on the land that I know of as home before the Europeans arrived. They were so welcoming and thoughtful.

    Although, as I read these stories, I was thinking to myself how did we go from these partnership instances to killing and ostracizing the native peoples to reservations?

    • I am glad you like these, Amy. It is unfortunate that these stories that come from the oral traditions of eyewitnesses–both native and pioneer– to this history do not take more of a place in what is taught in our schools.
      And where did the shift come? That is a very important point to ponder. Many emigrants were violent toward native peoples who tried to continue to gather food to sustain themselves on land the emigrants considered theirs. One certainly problematic factor is that the US government gave out Donation Claims to emigrants BEFORE they made treaties with native peoples for the title to their land. After that, Isaac Stevens adopted a policy of “forced treaties” to move the Indians from the lands that were already being given away to others. As I in a response to Patrick Provant in another comment, a few early pioneers were horrified at the treatment of native peoples and tried to defend them in various ways. This so horrified Stevens that he declared marshal law in Washington Territory to allow him to round up and imprison these settlers without charges.
      And fittingly enough as a response to this post, it was the fact that some pioneers shared thanksgiving dinner with Puget Sound pioneers that caused him to round them up and arrest them!

  11. I really enjoyed this article because of the truth it possesses in contrast to modern Western depictions of Native Americans. In Hollywood depictions, Native peoples are either highly romanticized or are shown as being violent and savage. Western films most commonly show unprovoked native people lashing out at settlers, leaving behind sobbing orphans, death, and destruction. Though I do not share in these ideas, they have been drilled into my brain through the media since childhood. I had never heard so many examples of peaceful, positive interactions between Natives and settlers and this article was truly an eye opener.

    The reoccurring theme of reciprocity from class is very important in understanding Native peoples and settlers’ interactions. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When the James’ family arrived on Native land, though they were welcomed, it was made clear that the land was not theirs. Coming to a new land, does not make one entitled to it. Only after John Roger James doctored the Chehalis through a smallpox epidemic, were the Natives willing to share their land. By treating all beings with dignity and respect, dignity and respect shall be returned.

    • Great point about reciprocity. Most of these stories came from personal memories or journals of those involved in them–mostly pioneer oral tradition. I think that when we tell the history of conquest (as justification for taking the land of another), we ignore the day to day relationships of individual persons. We very much need a different view of history– one that speaks about the lives of those who live it. This is the history that may lead us to wisdom as we find ways to learn from it.

  12. I enjoyed reading the many positive stories about Indians helping some of the first pioneers that moved to the west coast; prior to reading this, my knowledge about interaction between pioneers and Indians had been limited to Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea. It is heartening to hear such wonderful stories about people helping others (strangers) in need. Although there is some depressing history involving conflicts between settlers and Indian peoples, the examples here provide evidence for the ability of people to live together and help one another if there exists a mutual respect.

    • I think that the key point you make here is the way in which all good cross-cultural relationships must rest on mutual respect. Thanks for this comment, Lauren. I do wish such stories had more of a place in mainstream American history. Perhaps as we become wiser about our future and past together, that will be the case.

  13. I am glad I took the time to read this article, for I am not sure there are enough people who recall the history of Thanksgiving and the meaning behind it. It certainly has been a while since I recollected the history of Thanksgiving, and I think reading this article was exactly what I needed. Thanksgiving would actually have to be my favorite holiday, but not completely for the right reasons. I love Thanksgiving because I love food! Like most modern Americans unfortunately I would be an over-weight glutton if I didn’t exercise.

    Nevertheless, rather than being thankful for the food, perhaps I should be more thankful for the origin of this holiday and the Native people like those in this article who were kind enough to share their knowledge of the earth and nurture their neighbors with the fruit and meat of her.

    I am certainly grateful for the turkey who’s life was sacrificed for my hunger, and every time I see it lying there on the table, in my head I send the bird my thanks and feel a little remorse just before my predatory hunger takes over. And I personally thank the person or persons whom prepared and labored over the meal. But as for remembering how this day was born, and thanking those who made it possible to begin with…. this is something I don’t do enough. Though I am sure I am not the only one who has made this mistake in the modern world, I am now more inclined to rectify my error in perhaps taking this holiday a little for granted.

    From this holiday, we should learn not to take ANYTHING for granted, not even the trivial things, for everything we take from the earth as well as each other are gifts. Absolutely nothing is ours by right alone. When we take, we must give back, some other way. A simple thank-you is nice, but not always enough. The history of Thanksgiving is a prime example of the value of reciprocity which we all must learn to practice a little bit more of. And I thank you for sharing this article with us.

    • Hi Cherisse, thanks for taking the time to read these stories and to comment. I think you have a very important point that nothing is ours by right– there is nothing, that is, for which we should not be grateful– especially we owe thanks to the sources of our lives, whether they be natural lives like the turkey or humans in our history like these native peoples of the Northwest.
      And I certainly agree that we should not only say “thank you”, but practice some reciprocity with those who have contributed to our lives.
      Have a great Thanksgiving!

  14. After reading this, it makes me sad that we weren’t taught any of this in school. Even as an adult all I can remember about the “Original Thanksgiving” was pilgrims and Indians sitting down for dinner. All we’re taught about Native American’s in school is the slaughter that they were involved in – both doing and receiving.

    Why is it that this most important aspect of early settling is left out of the teachings of our children? My sisters are Native American, so I lucked out and was taught more about their tribe and the ways of their tribe, then most kids know. But I contribute the way I am today, partially because of that knowledge. How effected would our children be, if this is what they learned in school, vs the massacre at little big horn?

    There is so much we can learn from everyone out there if we are just willing to listen. I hope for the sake of the future, that schools start teaching an unbiased curriculum, for the sake of the future of the world. Learning the truth in the beginning, will help them tell the truth in the end.

    • Thanks for your comment, Becky. I very much like your point about telling children the truth early in life in order to help them know the value of truth for their later lives as well.
      You and others like you are the ones who need to ask this question about why such things are left out of our history– just as we need to change our history books, we need to change the stories we tell about Native peoples in our family and community. Please pass these on. And have a happy Thanksgiving!

  15. The timing of this article for Thanksgiving is perfect! It’s refreshing to hear about some positive encounters between Native Americans and early settlers. At least some of our western ancestors had the sense to appreciate the knowledge and helpfulness that Indians showed to them. Oftentimes now we only hear about the mistreatment, battles and massacres that occurred, so it’s encouraging to see that there were symbiotic relationships and love right alongside. Since pioneers depended heavily on Native Americans for food and supplies, it seems odd to me that we eventually bit the hand that fed us. I think acts of kindness, like the Indian borrowing the gun and providing a deer for the hungry mother and children, speak to the empathy Native Americans have for all living beings. Unlike so many people in history, they didn’t allow different skin color, culture, and history to cloud their way of compassion. We have much to be thankful for.

    • Thanks for your comment, Natalie. I agree that we have much to be thankful for–and some history to model as we learn from it. Your point about “biting the hand that feeds us” applies to the natural world as well. Val Plumwood does a pointed analysis about dualistic societies which indicate how the folks on the “top” of socially-conceived hierarchy such as human/nature or white/Indian is characteristically dependent on those on the bottom-but denies this. During the pre-Civil War south, for instance, plantation owners claimed that they were doing slaves a favor by giving them a better life than that in their African past. No mention made of the ways in which the owners actually relied on the slaves. Same is true with CEOs today: there is a reason they are compensated at the rate of hundreds of times their average worker– the worker’s contribution is downplayed– when in fact, a corporation could very likely exist without its administrators, but not without its workers.

      • This is very true, and it is a prevalent mindset in many places. In my experience as a server, I see an almost pretentious attitude among other servers who deny their dependence on the other restaurant team members and hoard the tip money they make from their tables. Yet this extra income would not be possible without the hostess who seats the guests, the cooks that prepare the food, the bartenders that make the drinks, and the bussers who keep the cleanliness of the table maintained. I think it really just comes down to our selfish nature–we want to hoard the money for ourselves, and of course it’s always a nice pat on our ego’s back when we trick ourselves into believing that we did it–all on our own. Of course, every system in the world is interdependent in one way or another. And as the saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link.

        • I think you are certainly right about interdependence, Natalie. I also think we might be careful about attributing selfishness to human nature– unfortunately, this is a trait our culture encourages along with competition and individualism over community. There are other cultures whose traditions foster unselfishness– so we might say our “nature” is malleable–and we choose how we shape it both as individuals and as a society. Thanks for your follow up comment.

  16. This was a perfect article to read so close to Thanksgiving! This article makes you really realize that one’s needs to be thankful for the world we live in, the food we have, the roof over our head, and our family and friends that we have supporting us. This article also made me realize that I need to be thankful all the time, not just after reading something like this, and/or time before Thanksgiving. This is great to read because who knows where our lives would be without the Native American’s. They didn’t have to extend their generosity and provide skills to Pioneers during this time, but they did and we should be very thankful for it. In this day in age you don’t see total strangers helping out other total strangers. To know that is what took place with the Native Americans and the Pioneers it is heartfelt and a blessing.

    • I’m glad you like this, Jose. My sense is that there should be articles like this everywhere at this season– and similar reminders of our history at all seasons of the year. I like your perspective that Native peoples did not have to help out the pioneers in the way they did, but they chose to. Now it is our turn to chose to make better decisions about supporting one another. Thanks for your comment.

  17. Stories such as these are so rarely told, even in an area rich with Native American history like ours. History books certainly tend to portray Native peoples as savages, at least they did when I was in school. No mention is made of how the white settlers relied so heavily on their native neighbors for their subsistence. Of course, we hear Sacagawea helped Lewis and Clark but that story is countered by the telling of the Whitman massacre. Historically, in books and film, both educational and entertainment, Native Americans are presented as ignorant savages. It’s high time positive attention was pointed at the people who clearly made it possible for white settlers to survive in their early days of pioneering. So, cheers to those who saw fit to set aside a day of acknowledgement for Native Americans.

  18. After reading this I am heartened by the giving spirit of the native peoples and saddened how some of the pioneers along with the American government could not reciprocate this generosity. This shows that even then the incoming colonists and the new government it spawned had no concept of a partnering worldview or reciprocity. It begs the question of how the native peoples could have been looked upon as uncivilized and inferior when it was the pioneers and subsequently the American government who were responsible for the many crimes committed against native peoples.
    In honor of the many contributions the native peoples provided, I will share these stories of giving with my family and children on Thanksgiving. I feel it ‘s important to acknowledge and be thankful for the many contributions native peoples have bestowed and a great way to provide a more balanced perspective than the one they may have read in school.

    • Thanks for passing these stories on, Kathleen. That is certainly in the spirit of National Native Heritage Day– and in the spirit of relaying our true history as well. I hope that the school curricula may change as well– I know Kalapuya elder Esther Stutzman’s has been dedicated in visiting schools to share her culture. She could use some support from the rest of us.

  19. It is with great interest and delight that I read of my family here in class. I’m not a direct descendant of Ezra Meeker, but I’m told he was my great (or possibly great-great) uncle through my mom (Janet Meeker). And to think back and realize that if that Indian woman hadn’t so courteously kept checking in on Ezra’s wife and kids, well, who knows what might have happened. If there had been an emergency, they might have moved away, or told people not to come, or perhaps Meeker himself would not have been as ardent a supporter of Oregon Trail preservation… in short, my world and even my existence on this planet may very well be contingent upon the kindness of that woman.
    Who knows? ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ reminds me every year that being a good person makes a difference in the world. I for one will have a new thing to think about, and a new story to tell my family on Thanksgiving and on Native American Heritage Day. Thank you for sharing and giving me a personal connection.

    • Wonderful, Patrick. I am glad to hear you will be retelling this story. Thanks for reminding us all about the important ways “being a good person makes a difference in this world”!

  20. When views the world as belonging to it, it makes sense to give of what one has because everything comes from the Earth and therefore belongs to everyone. The Native Americans obviously had a true grasp on this concept which is why helping others was not a question, but an absolute. I grew up with a Native American women who gave as if she owned nothing. She had the most generous spirit that sometimes she would end up going without because she gave so much away.
    The spirit of giving is so much more than moving things from one person to another, it is about conceiving the world as abundant and as that which we all belong to and share. Being thankful is recognizing and accepting the gifts that are bestowed on us on a daily basis. The Native Americans have a great legacy of giving and as modern Americans we can still show them that thankfulness for treating our forefathers with the love and kindness we should treat anyone that lives on this Earth.

    • Thanks for this comment, Jessica. It is a blessing to meet such giving people–and what I have experienced in being around them is that one just naturally wants to give back in return. I like the way you work in the notion of abundance to ground such sharing–and I also like your conclusion that we can show Native peoples a return on the kindness that they modeled for our ancestors–which is the same kindness with which we “should treat anyone that lives on this earth”.

  21. What wonderful stories. It is amazing to me that the Indians extended friendship and mutual respect to the settlers. When I think about the relationship between settlers and Indians I often think of a tumultuous relationship centering in conflict. It was great to hear a different version of the relationship. Having a Native American heritage day is very important because future generations as well as current generations should appreciate and understand other cultures and their histories in order to be a well rounded and open individual.

    • I’m glad you liked these stories, Ashley and hope you feel free to pass any of them if you wish to. It is a great loss when all we hear of the history of these relationships is conquest and conflict.

  22. I really enjoyed this piece, it’s reassuring to read about the wonderful things the pioneer and indigenous peoples did for one another. Especially getting around this time of year, it helps you to remember and appreciate the peoples who came before and set such a clear and caring example of reciprocity. It was interesting that having the women pioneer commonly being sole household runners brought out such compassion to assist her with her struggle. Living in a small town I try to be a part of my community with the better of the whole in mind, if someone’s broke down on the side of the road we stop to see if they need a hand. If that was happening a bit more often than not, I think we’d all be better for it.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this, Emily. It is wonderful that you have since of community in your town– I hope such neighborly feelings and actions spread–as both Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Day should help them to do.

  23. I am bookmarking this to re-read with my kids on Thanksgiving. These stories are things we should be teaching our kids, in hope that the natural “giving” nature is nurtured in them, as it was/is in the Native Americans. We should all realize and be thankful for all the knwledge and help that the Native Americans shared with us.
    It makes me feel sad to think how our cutlure is so lacking. We are taught to get all we can out of life, but it is so much more rewarding and natural to give all we can to life. In doing this, we are much more alive and at peace. When we struggle to take and get, we exhaust ourselves and do not really live.
    The story of the little girl giving the mocassins to the emmigrants is especially powerful. This was natural for her to do. She had been taught reciprocity, and modeled it so graciously.

    • Great, Erin. I am happy you are doing this! Great perspective for Thanksgiving on the energy that we get from giving-and the exhaustion from “struggling to take and get”.
      I too love the story of the mocassins being slipped on the barefoot boy’s feet! Such a spontaneous and generous gesture of care and nurturance.
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  24. I am amazed by how different we americans are today from the Native Americans described in this story. Thanksgiving for them was a true act that they religiously practiced in everything they did every day. Now, we only celebrate it once a year and usually by stuffing ourselves silly with food and then passing out during the Thanksgiving day football game. So many holidays have been completely abstracted from their original meaning or reason for celebration. Thanksgiving is one of the most misunderstood. The fact that Congress needed to pass a “Native American Heritage Day Act” says something about our culture. Most of us won’t do something unless we’re told to, and we obviously have ignored the true meaning of Thanksgiving and these Native Americans until we absolutely have to.

    • Hi Sarah, I agree with you that we should make gratitude and sharing a centerpiece of our daily-not easy to do in a culture that proclaims success is outdoing someone else. But there are some who do live out the first worldview: as we can see in this essay which you have also commented on as inspiring.
      And I think that declaring this holiday is a first step in the right direction in helping us to take up this frame of mind. Thanks for your comment.

  25. This article really shows you what we can learn from indigenous people. I really like how they talked about how the Indians were the safest to be with on the river and even when the white person came along and thought they knew more than the Indian, it usually was ended up causing more danger than anything else. I would really hope that more people would understand and want to learn more about the history of the native people of this country, we could learn quite a few things from them.

    • Thank you for your comment, Patricia. I certainly agree with you on the point of learning from native people. I am glad you liked the stories about boating on the river: if there is one thing that native people knew well and cared for, it was the waters of the Northwest.

  26. Hey everybody!! Happy Thanksgiving!! .!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
    Thanksgiving is 1 of my favorite holidays, and each yr I like to get into the mood-extend the holiday, when it were-by reading “Thanksgiving novels.” Of course, these stories are mostly about family, about coming together to heal old hurts and showing thanks for the gift of love. .. . —
    Have You Been Much better Off Today Than You Had been 9 Years Ago?

  27. This is a beautiful way to show appreciation for Native Americans. These stories are heart warming accounts that are not often shared or even considered. I never thought about the women and children left at home during pioneering, the account of the man hunting for the family is admirable, as is the story of Norman Dick being taught about the different aounds of the water in different streams. It was also interesting how the James family was introduced to the concept of Native Reciprocity, learning to work together as a community, and learning not to expect a land handout.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Michael. I think it would be great if we moved the knowledge of these mutual kindnesses out of unpublished archives and oral tradition and into mainstream history.

    • It would be amazing if these stories and points of view were actually shared in our k-12 schooling system. Having been lucky enough to attend a non-mainstream school as a child(Waldorf of Salt Lake City and Portland Oregon) I was lucky enough to learn such things. When I decided that I wanted to attend a regular High School I was amazed by how little was taught or known about the Native Americans.

      • This is a sad testament to what we are missing as a community, Justin. I am glad you were able to have a different experience.

      • It is pretty sad what we learn and more specifically what is left out. This nations’ mistakes and missteps are rarely, if at all, acknowledged. I think this is to keep up the myth that we’re “the best” nation on the planet. WWII internment camps here in the US are barely spoken of, yet we here extensively of the horrors committed in Nazi Germany’s camps. No, we didn’t commit genocide, but it was still racial profiling, unjust, and economic warfare. It is an extremely dangerous situation when one doesn’t learn from their mistakes, as mistakes make you better. The phrase “If we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it” has been repeated countless times, but qualitatively so.

  28. This article was insightful. It seems one learned and can learn a lot from the native people and it is sad what became of them — they were so helpful. I do not recall being in school and ever having them teach us the “proper” history. I fear that the majority of people will remain ignorant about most of the Native American’s heritage, too, as Native American History Month doesn’t have immense amounts of hype like, say, gay pride or anything; it really needs to be slung out there in the faces of people so more folks can acknowledge the month properly. We need to be more grateful. It is also distressing to see people mock Native Americans by wearing feathers, headdresses and giving themselves names like “Swimming Turtle” (you see this a lot more now, with Halloween and costumes and “hipsters” and all). I am not a sensitive person and not easily aggrieved however I can still see how this may come across as thoroughly offensive. I know I’ve always found dreamcatchers appealing yet I make sure to recall their origin. I will try to share the info here with more people.

    • I agree, that I wish we had a better history of American Indians taught in our classrooms. I never heard of Native American History Month before I took this class, but I never sought it out either. I would like to see a detailed understanding of Indian customs/ traditions integrated into our schools, I think a lot of people take the traditional stories literally instead of metaphorically.

      • I think you are right about the meaning of traditional stories in all culture, Michael. When we understand these metaphors, a good deal of wisdom is open to us.

      • Michael, I agree completely, I wish that I would have been taught more about Native Americans in school. I too would like to see a detailed understanding of Indian customs/ traditions integrated into our schools. Their traditions and stories are important and need to be shared.

    • Thanks for helping to pass this information on, Jessica.

    • I agree that there is not enough emphasis on Native American cultures, as well as other cultures, in U.S schools. I have mixed feelings about the Native American History Month, or any of the other months dedicated to a certain group. The reason I do not like dedication of certain times to any group/s is because I have noticed that for most people they do not give a thought about those groups other than during their designated time. I think that it would be better if the teachings of different cultures would be integrated into the teaching curriculum in schools and by all families, instead of giving them attention only during certain times of the year.

      • Thoughtful point, Nathan, but until we incorporate such learning about our full history in our schools of all grades, I think we need something to bridge the gap in our attention, knowledge and respect.

    • I agree that Native American Heritage month should be marketed more and pushed to a higher level of importance! The knowledge that Indigenous peoples’ possesed could help in so many ways. We definately need to be more grateful and thankful. It’s so sad to see such amazing cultures slowly dissapear from our history books (even then, they were never really in the history books!)

      • My hope is that these kinds of stories will be added to our history books– along with the cultural resurgence in many current native communities, even with the challenges that their communities have faced with Euroamerican settlement.

  29. I am happy to read stories on how Native Americans helped European immigrants instead of the normal stories of Natives attacking immigrants. I always found it sad that if not for the Wampanoag the pilgrims at Plymouth colony would have most likely all died out from starvation and exposure. Then later the U.S government tries to eradicate them. I always wondered as a kid that if the Wampanoag’s did not help the pilgrims and let them perish that the Natives would not have gone through the atrocities that they went through.

  30. It is amazing to hear of the incredible dependence that the early pioneers had on the Native Americans. In school it is always hyped up how strong, enduring and intuitive the Pioneers of the early west were. But we never hear about how much help they had from the Native Americans. I think that if more people had a better understanding of Native Americans, it might spark more interest not only in Native American culture but also in Nature and what it has to offer.

  31. What a wonderful thing the Indigenous people did for the early pioneers. The caring and understanding, non-judgemental opinions, and aiding in survival shows just how amazing these people are. It is great to hear stories like this. I just wish that the early settlers would have returned the favor. Instead, just the opposite happened. How sad. Thank you for sharing the wonderful examples of kindness. I wonder if this expression of kindness spanned the whole of the country, and if so, what are some of the good stories from elsewhere?

    • This is the geographical area in which I did most of my own research.. though I suspect there are more such stories from elsewhere, someone else will have to share them. It would be great if they did.

  32. It is unforunate that many movies and most of the stories that we grow up hearing are stories portray Native Americans as savages with only one thing in mind… to skin all the immigrants. These are the stories that need to be shared. In fourth grade we were taught Idaho History, it was then that I learned about the tribes native to Idaho: Kootenai, Kalispel, Coeur d’ Alene
    Palouse, Nez Perce, Northern Paiute, and the Shoshone – Bannock . I don’t recall a single story besides Lewis and Clark that depicted these or other Indians as anything but killers. It is such a shame. Our schools need to teach more than the colonization of the U.S. by European immagrants. Indians are such a huge part of U.S. history that it is a shame they are not given as much attention as the European settlers.

    • I hope you will now a few other kinds of stories to offer your children in terms of their education, Kiley. And it never hurts to indicate to their teachers that you have some information for them to share.

    • I agree with your point about what we learned and our children learn in school about Native Americans. I know it is better now than when I was in high school, but it seems time to give credit to the Native Americans for practices that we are now calling “new” and “green” (sustainable farming), (conservation)as well as to teach the positive side of or relationships as humans in the past.

    • Good points I also remember learning about Columbus Day in grade school. I remember learning that Columbus discovered America, which is not the case. So why do we have a holiday celebrating this guy, he’s no hero, especially to indigenous people. So what are they teaching kids in schools about him today? I hope whatever they are teaching is the truth. Native Americans need more recognition and respect when it comes to our nation’s history.

  33. It is amazing to hear how much kindness and compassion that Native Americans showed to the pioneers who knew nothing about the land and probably would have died without it. It is also sad because even though they showed much kindness to settlers, when push came to shove we did not show it back. Instead we put them on small parcels of land, usually the crappiest around. I think that Native American Heritage Month is an awesome celebration and it should be something that every school and every person respects, and that they actually learn about the true nature of Native Americans. Really it seems like, after reading this essay, that it should be Native American Heritage Year. This is something that we should appreciate all year and take time each day to appreciate what we have, because it seems like so much of it was directly because of the Native Americans.

    • Hi Laura, thanks for your generous personal response. I think there is no doubt that early emigrants would have died without native help to aid them with food, shelter– and directions.
      Native American Year wouldn’t hurt in terms of balancing the dearth of this kind of information we have in our history– to make things at least come up to even so we get a sense of our real history.

  34. For the intrepid pioneering re-settlers of the Western American frontier life was exceptionally hard. No rest, no leisure, no recreation. Just work, survive, scrap out a living, and hopefully better oneself and/or his or her family. Going west was not like hitting the jackpot and immediately becoming very affluent, it was a chance at a fresh start, literally from scratch. But, the new emigrants were much like an animal in captivity that hasn’t learned how to hunt for food on its own and the whole endeavor would not have been possible without the help of Native Americans. What did we do to reciprocate this help? We corrupted the Indians. We pushed them to the brink. Drove them from their land, took and never gave back.

    Re-settlers came in like a Trojan horse and it was too late before Natives realized how fast and how much they were losing. Now all in the name of consumerism, just like Christmas, we corrupt the meaning of Thanksgiving. The true meaning and purpose of Thanksgiving is being crowded out and shouted down to hear the best Black Friday deals.

    The Native Americans were connected with the land and in tune to it. Newcomers couldn’t comprehend this and just use the land for what they felt they needed. Native Americans had a sense of more; more than material possession or wealth, we’re living our lives out in a sequence of events from a foretold timeline.

    • Hi Trent, I appreciate your comment and also have some responses to two points you make. Actually, the stereotypes of pioneer history (how hard the re-settlers– good term– worked) does not always apply. From the oral history I gathered, women worked that hard–and men did not always do so. Women were often responsible for homesteads– which entailed clothing made for children, cooking (including gathering and cutting firewood), cleaning, building and at harvest time, helping in the fields and cooking for extra hands. One woman’s workload as related by her daughter entailed “free hours” only between 2 and 5 in the morning.
      Men were not always even present. The Gold Rush, for instance, nearly emptied the Willamette Valley of its male population, who went off to seek their fortune while the women stayed home to do all that needed to be done there. Men might also follow logging camps, go exploring or hunt on speculation– one Willamette Valley pioneer journal stated , deer were “so easy to kill” , he could get more money killing them for their hides than “working at a job.”
      Further, as Anson Dart, first Indian Agent of Oregon Territory noted, Indians were doing a good of the heavy labor in building pioneer homesteads- thus he pleaded that they not be removed to reservations, lest the pioneers suffer accordingly by having to do all this work themselves.
      This does not mean that there were not some hard working pioneers– but the stereotype of the pioneer who built the US empire on sweat labor is not quite true.
      Further, though it is certainly true that contact created much tragedy in native lives, I would not say we “corrupted” them– native people made their own choices in the midst of the tragedies they suffered. And now particular elders, like Siletz Takelma elder “Grandma Aggie” Pilgrim Baker, are impressing on the non-native population the importance of upholding the highest moral standards with respect to both human and more than human lives.
      I appreciate your comment so that the complex nature of this history can be laid out a bit. And yes, I agree that it is time to return to a sense of Thanksgiving more in keeping with the attitude of gratefulness in our lives rather than consumerist opportunities on Black Friday.

  35. I have mixed emotions about this month and Native American Heritage Day. My concerns are not at all for their existence, but rather the fact that very few people are aware that they do. I am very glad to see government and other recognition of Native American Heritage, and I waited a little while to post this, mostly out of curiosity.

    Last month I couldn’t buy much of anything without my hand brushing a pink ribbon encouraging me to purchase a product and support the fight against breast cancer. I am well acquainted with the effects of this particular cancer- my grandmother, aunt, best friend’s mother, mother’s best friend, and two family friends have undergone or are in treatment for breast cancer. I am one of the last people to lack in empathy. However, I do feel a bit overwhelmed by what seems to have become a marketing scheme for companies looking to cash in on people’s sympathies.

    In October it seemed like every shelf of every four-foot had something displaying a pink ribbon. During February there are always numerous advertisements and programs promoting African-American History Month (please correct me if that is not the current politically accepted designation). This month- and I’ve been watching carefully- I have yet to see a single reference to Native American Heritage month, or Native American Heritage Day, but plenty of advertisements for early Black Friday; one wonders if the planners behind that idea have to leave their family dinners early to get to work for the extra shifts required (but that’s another topic).

    I think that we should celebrate the heritage of Native Americans, and with good reason and a healthy dose of excitement. We should also acknowledge their many losses and sacrifices, and perhaps as individuals, groups and communities make efforts to say thank you. There are probably quite a few people whose families survived and thrived because of the kindnesses showed to them, and it would be nice to know if there are ways to reciprocate that generosity. Perhaps organized festivals and celebrations, exchanging of baked goods and recipes? I would appreciate information on what activities are appropriate for the 25th of this month, aside from shopping (I’ve never gone, have no real desire to, and honestly don’t need anything), and wouldn’t mind doing something constructive while everyone else is in town.

    • I love your ideas in the last paragraph, Adreinne. Likely this month is not that much acknowledged in the consumer arena, since no one has yet figured out a way to make money from knowing our real history. You have suggested we might make another kind of profit from it– profit of community links, care and knowledge– not to mention, justice. Thanks for your comment.
      And I am very sorry that the women of your family have had to suffer so many breast cancers.

  36. My sons and a friend were discussing Thanksgiving last night. The friend commented that it was strange that we celebrate Thanksgiving after what we did to the Native Americans. My son said that without the Native Americans the Pilgrims would not have survived, they would have starved. One of the boys said “no good deed goes unpunished.” and it struck me that that old saying is a reflection of the western world view. The Native Americans with their worldview of reciprocity, generosity, and kindness–would have assumed that “the gift” would return to them, probably never imagining the brutality and disregard for others when in pursuit of a goal that has defined the growth of our nation.
    I remember feeling confused as a child, to hear the Thanksgiving story, but also see the depiction of Native Americans on tv westerns as savage killers of settlers. It didn’t make sense.
    In this essay you have given me many good stories for discussion over thanksgiving dinner! Thank you

  37. I had no idea prior to reading this essay that November is Native American heritage month. That is great. Even more surprising to me is the Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009, wow I’m surprised it took this long to get a time to recognize and celebrate the work and lives of Native peoples. This essay explains many reasons to be thankful for Native Americans. I think many modern Americans don’t consider how the Natives helped the pioneers to survive on the land. The Natives were great people for helping and sharing the land with the pioneers. I’m glad that the Native Americans are at least getting a month of recognition. I hope that in the future more Americans are able to learn about Native history and how influential it was, is, and can be on our lives.

  38. […] the post below on “remembering to remember” in this Thanksgiving month are many examples in which native peoples of Western Washington taught […]

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