“Beginning with where our feet first touch the earth, we send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world.”
– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
When we open our eyes to the world around us, we can see there is much to be thankful for no matter what time of the year it may be. While we may get lost in the shuffle on any given day, a quick step outside along with a deep breath reminds us that we’re not alone. The damp soil beneath our feet, a singing bird and the shining sun reminds us that Earth, our home, supports all of life. Even the cold, dark winter reminds us to take it slow and enjoy this time of rest, renewal and regeneration.
If you have been following us on social media this November, you may have noticed that we’ve been working through the elements of nature to give our thanks. We were inspired by the Haudenosaunee Nation (or Six Nations) from Upstate New York and Canada, who have shared the Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World far and wide. It’s a beautiful recollection that life is entirely interdependent and that our livelihood depends on the natural world’s ability to thrive. We begin with the people remembering to live in harmony with one another, but then we turn to Mother Earth and all the life she supports before climbing the ladder of creation from the waters to the heavens.
The Premise Behind the Thanksgiving Address
The Thanksgiving Address serves as an “invocation of gratitude” for all of life and the gifts of the natural world, including but beyond what our human friends have to offer. It’s an enlightening incantation that walks us through the elements and all beings that support life. The Haudenosaunee consider them the “Words That Come Before All Else” so they are often explored at the beginning of the day to bring these elements into our human deliberations. While these words are ancient and follow a natural rhythm, they vary from one person to the next, recognizing each person will speak them in a unique and varied way, as each person is unique and expresses themselves in their own way. It’s lovely to hear how others show respect for living beings. It reminds us there is so much more to see and embody when it comes to gratitude, especially when it comes to an insect’s role in life since they “bug” us, as well as the wind that circulates the breath of Mother Earth and brings us change, not just a change in seasons, but change in our hearts.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, in the Allegiance of Gratitude chapter of her book Braiding Sweetgrass, walks us through the Thanksgiving Address through the eyes of the children at the Onondaga Nation School in Upstate New York. The students begin and end their school day by proclaiming these words rotating through the grades in their own words. It prioritizes gratitude and interdependence but teaches leadership as the children honor the different leaders of each system: the strawberry, the leader of the berries; the eagle, the leader of the birds; and the maple, the leader of the trees. It’s a powerful reminder that we have everything we need to live a life of abundance because of the many gifts each element and species has provided since the beginning of time. It also reminds us to care for these great gifts that sustain us without being asked, such as the ever-rising sun and the plants that turn the sun’s energy into sugars that feed the animals and us. We must note many Native Cultures have rituals and ceremonies rooted in gratitude but this one is unique to the Haudenosaunee (Kimmerer, 2013 p.106).
We’re fortunate the Haudenosaunee Nation has shared these words through the Tree of Peace Society and the Tracking Project. Jake Swamp-Tekaronianeken (1940-2010), Mohawk Chief and diplomat, envisioned these words would spread to children throughout the world so when they meet, “they will find that they are coming from the same place.” The version we share manifests Jake’s vision and is intended to be shared far and wide.
“It reminds you every day that you have enough. More than enough. Everything needed to sustain life is already here. When we do this, every day, it leads to an outlook of contentment and respect for all of Creation….The Thanksgiving Address is a reminder we cannot hear too often, that we human beings are not in charge of the world, but are subject to the same forces as all of the rest of life.”
-Frieda Jacques, as shared in Braiding Sweetgrass
When spoken aloud alone, these words can transform your day, but when expressed as a collective with the sun shining down on us, it feels as though we are steeped in gratitude as our smile beams throughout our bodies. It is a gift that sets the stage for humility, love and confidence that we’re in this together. When we embody this offering with a group of people before a gathering, it releases tensions, creates a sense of joy and, of course, a state of gratitude and interdependence. Again, we are fortunate the Haudenosaunee have shared these beautiful words with the greater world to help us unite and revere the great abundance of life.
Reciting the Thanksgiving Address
If you wish to share this with a group, we have been taught that ideally you should be outside with your feet on the ground and the group should arrange in a circle and join hands (thumbs to the left). The speaker should face east, the direction we are heading and offer the prayer for each element in their own words. After each element, the group acknowledges each by verbally responding in any way that feels appropriate after the speaker says “now our minds are one”. We include the insects after the water-beings based on input from Haudenosaunee elders. It is important you remain within the bounds of what has been shared so you use this prayer in a good way, in respect for the gift that has been given so ki is well received.
A Gift for You
We have been called to continue this sharing tradition and would like to offer a copy of the Thanksgiving Address booklet as a gift to anyone who signs up for the 7group mailing list here. We will follow up to the email you provide and ask for your mailing address. Of course, it must be said, 7group will not share your information with anyone outside of our organization.
Thank you for coming along with us on this journey. May your days be filled with gratitude and respect for all the beings of the natural world including each other.