It is now late Autumn, here, almost exactly halfway between the North Pole and the Equator. Although the past few days have been warm, there is always a chill to the air. I find it difficult to believe that three weeks ago I was sweltering near the Equator.
Night comes early and stays long. The nighttime sky is darker than in summer, and stars fill the heavens. Most mornings are frosty, even those following days in the fifties. No longer impervious to cold, our middle-aged cat hesitates to go out.
The harvest is in. Next week is Thanksgiving. (The Canadians celebrated the holiday last month.) My friend Richard reminds us that First Nations people had many times of acknowledgment and gratitude during the year. In the Northeast, the first Thanksgiving Festival of the year acknowledges the sweetness of maple syrup. Then we express gratitude for the first greens, strawberries, salmon, and on and on through the growing year.
It seems an odd tradition to only celebrate once, to lump the generous sacrifices of so many beings, without whom we would perish, into one day of gratitude. At the same time, it is a blessing to be with family, to sit down together to a traditional feast, and to look into the face of so many we love.
There is yet another side to Thanksgiving. For many First Nations people, Thanksgiving is a time of great sadness, a national day of mourning. Our ancestors’ generosity, which allowed many colonists to survive the brutal New England winters of the early Colonial era, was met with betrayal, then genocide. There remains for us an immediacy to those first Thanksgivings. What is ancient history for most North Americans, is often ongoing calamity for the First Nations.
Each year the season brings nominal acknowledgment of First Nations peoples, and our role in that mythical first Thanksgiving. Yet, the displacement, illness, and death that followed are not spoken of. The last four hundred years of dispossession and organized genocide are not discussed. The continued suffering of contemporary tribal persons, many living in cities far from traditional tribal grounds, is ignored. No apologies are offered, no solace given.
Amidst these complexities, we will gather our family together and be glad for the riches of the day and the blessings of kin. Descendants of Colonists, sons and daughters of the First Nations, the adult children of refuges from the pogroms of Eastern Europe, all survivors, all now hybridized and intermarried, will sit down together and share food and companionship. For this, I am profoundly, unimaginably, graceful.