A Heartfelt Dedication
By Cathy Eck
The ancient masters said, “The beliefs of the masses are always 180 degrees from the truth.” In other words, if everyone is doing it or believing it, it probably isn’t true. When I read that, it hit a cord for two reasons.
As a teenager, I often went to church with friends because we were going out and church was on the way, or I’d just spent the night at their house and church was the next thing up on their family’s schedule. It was clear to me that people became conditioned by the church experience. It reminded me of magic. If you know the secret behind the trick, you see exactly what the magician is doing. If you aren’t privy to the secret, you fall into the mystic of the illusion; and it all looks quite amazing.
Since I wasn’t caught up in the magic and mystic of the church experience, I could always see the short little, funny looking wizard behind the robe. I’d ask my friends, why they did certain rituals or ceremonies or said certain prayers, and their answer was consistent. They said,
“I don’t know.”
Today, I would say “You don’t fucking know? Really!!!! You do something every week and you don’t fucking know what you are doing?”
I have learned that when we are not told the reason for something, and it is odd or weird or ceremonial, it is because someone doesn’t want us to know the reason. If we did know, we’d probably not do it. But back then, I was polite and would say, “Oh, I’m sure there is a good reason.” They’d smile and nod. “You know God has his ways (giggle, giggle).”
So think about Thanksgiving. Here is a little clip from the internet, and it pretty much matches what I learned in “his story” class in school.
The Pilgrims had a rough time when they first landed on Plymouth Rock. Finally, the friendly native Americans taught the European plunderers how to fish and plant corn. The harvest feast held by William Bradford and the gang was a way for the Pilgrims to thank the Indians for saving their lives. Thus, Thanksgiving.
It sounds so chipper and full of bullshit to me today. Back in grade school, Thanksgiving was a day off, and I wasn’t going to knock a good thing. But today, I love my work. Today I don’t take classes that aren’t amazingly fun. Today, I find myself walking around with the thought floating in my head, “I love my life.” Somehow Thanksgiving now looks trite and superficial. Thank you hardly seems enough.
What we don’t acknowledge in that little politically correct history-class story is the real ending. Those Pilgrims and their buddies seemed to think that once they gave the natives a turkey and a quick prayer that they were complete and no longer had to remember their kindness and generosity. So now it was totally acceptable to stuff them into reservations with land that had little water and grew great cactuses or turn them into casino owners. Yes, Thanksgiving has really become a day of conditional love if you tell the whole story.
“Thanks,” as long as you are nice to me, but if you don’t do what I want or have something I need, then “No thanks.” So we say our superficial thank you’s, make a turkey, watch some football, plan for Black Friday, and put up with our relatives or not. And that is Thanksgiving. It is smothered in conditional behavior.
So I feel obliged to offer a heartfelt thank you to the Native Americans. When I was a little girl, I watched the crying Indian commercial, and I bet you did too. I cried along with that Indian. Growing up in Pittsburgh, the rivers were so polluted that the fish were dead. The air left your white shirt black. People were happy because they had work, and they could buy, buy, buy; but they didn’t seem to notice that breathing was becoming an obstacle. As you drove along in cars, people opened their windows and dumped their trash on the side of the road. Cigarette butts dropped wherever the smoker stood. But the Indian just cried and prayed to Great Spirit for help. They also were part of one very powerful television commercial.
I have to be honest. I had no respect for my parent’s generation. I remember thinking the native people respect their elders because their elders deserve respect. We respect elders because they are elders.
As I got older, I started researching Native Americans; and I found something else that was remarkable about them. They know why they do everything. You might not agree with their logic, but they have logic. They don’t celebrate something just because they were told to do it or because everyone does it. They value their minds; and we can learn from them. I do every day, and I thank them for that.
So I hope these beautiful Native American quotes turn your ordinary, conditional Thanksgiving upside down.
“ I have heard you intend to settle us on a reservation near the mountains. I don’t want to settle. I love to roam over the prairies. There I feel free and happy, but when we settle down we grow pale and die. ”
“ We are going by you without fighting if you will let us, but we are going by you anyhow! ”
— —Chief Joseph
“ People only think of Native Americans as “back in the day.” Every other culture is in the present. ”
— —Shakohwin Black Cloud, Lakota Muscokgee
“ Our true enemies, as well as our true sources of strength, lie within. ”
— —Willaru Huayta, Quecha
“ There is no greater honor than being under the guidance of the Great Spirit. ”
— —Nakota LaRance, Hopi/Assiniboine