Op-Ed: Let Us Give Thanks

by | Nov 17, 2020 | OPINION

With Thanksgiving coming soon, The Highland Support Project want to remind us that we can celebrate the holiday mindfully, by striving for a collective harmony that celebrates Indigenous cultures alongside American culture.

Giving thanks is a sacred cornerstone of Indigenous culture. When we host engagement trips to rural Indigenous communities in Guatemala each summer, there are always volunteers amazed at the apparent peace of the Indigenous people, despite all of the challenges and discrimination they face in their daily lives. When one is continually living a life of gratitude, it fosters a sense of internal contentment regardless of external adversity.  Among the Dakota and Lakota nations,

“Generosity and gratitude are so revered that the most powerful among us are not those who hoard wealth. Rather, they are those who give the most to others, especially to those who need it most. Materialism is frowned upon, and to be called stingy or greedy is considered a grave insult. We aim to give freely to our brethren without counting the cost.” (Ruth Hopkins, Aljazeera, 2019)

Indigenous populations in Canada hold seasonal ceremonies of gratitude, and according to Aboriginal Perspectives, “At the heart of every ceremony is gratitude to the Creator for the gift of life.” José Augusto Yac Noj, who is Mayan K’iche, explains, “When a person goes deeper into the Cosmovision, their entire life begins to revolve around spirituality. The calendar begins to guide one’s life completely, and each moment is one of gratitude.”

On the original Thanksgiving, there was a particular shared sense of gratitude between the Wampanoag tribe, who had struggled in their alliances with other tribes, and the Pilgrims, a fresh population of foreign refugees. The Wampanoag Nation held justifiable skepticism over an alliance with the Pilgrims, but Ousamequin, the tribe leader, “favored cultivating the English as military allies and sources of metal weaponry to fend off the Narragansett tribe to the West, who had escaped the epidemic and were using their newfound advantage in strength to reduce to Wampanoags to tributaries,” according to David J. Silverman, writing for The Atlantic.

The Wampanoag tribe hoped that the Pilgrims could provide the necessary fortifications to sustain their tribe against incoming conflict from neighboring tribes, all exacerbated by the stress of a pandemic. As the Pilgrims were equally in need of guidance to navigate their new terrain, solidarity was forged between these two outcast populations. Thanksgiving became a symbolic and literal breaking of bread between two unusual allies.

We fully acknowledge the ensuing and continuous harmful impact of settler colonialism on Indigenous populations, but view this event as an idealized hypothetical of interculturality. We intentionally opt into the term intercultural, as opposed to multicultural. As defined by the Spring Institute

Multicultural refers to a society that contains several cultural or ethnic groups. People live alongside one another, but each cultural group does not necessarily have engaging interactions with each other. For example, in a multicultural neighborhood, people may frequent ethnic grocery stores and restaurants without really interacting with their neighbors from other countries… Intercultural describes communities in which there are a deep understanding and respect for all cultures. Intercultural communication focuses on the mutual exchange of ideas and cultural norms and the development of deep relationships. In an intercultural society, no one is left unchanged because everyone learns from one another and grows together.”

There is a poignancy in a reflection on this meal, as an “original” event of our country, juxtaposing with our current divisiveness. However, we recognize this holiday, especially with the context of its origin story, to be quintessential not just for “what could have been,” but also still “what could be.” Today, we are in an ironic repetition of history, where yet again, we are divided into clans amidst the backdrop of a pandemic… but yet again, unity is possible.

All in this country have initial roots elsewhere. We dream of using Thanksgiving as a model not for a “melting pot” phenomenon where cultures assimilate without holding onto their own spice, but of an intercultural society. Let us draw upon the potential for this to be a day of harmony and internal gratitude amidst external adversity. Use this day to celebrate and honor the culture of both your family and your neighbors. We embrace the philosophy of Buen Vivir, a way of living inspired by the Quechua people of the Andes that is “community-centric, ecologically-balanced, and culturally-sensitive,” according to The Guardian.

So, this Thanksgiving, let us give thanks and focus on “what could be” in our society. Let us strive for harmonious collectivity, inspired by the gratitude of Indigenous populations. Chief Seattle, chief of the Suquamish and the Duwamish tribes, said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” We encourage the celebration of and respect for the sacredness and interconnectedness of all life every day, especially on this Thanksgiving. 

Note: Op-Eds are contributions from guest writers and do not reflect editorial policy.

Top Image by Kylie Love Gatchalian

Madison Sweitzer & Ben Blevins

Madison Sweitzer & Ben Blevins

Madison Sweitzer is a 2019 graduate from the University of Richmond with a degree in Global Studies, Development, and Latin American, Latinx, and Iberian Studies. She served as a Princeton in Latin America Fellow in 2019 and is currently the Outreach Coordinator for Highland Support Project. Ben Blevins is the founder of Highland Support Project. He was "radicalized" after a mission trip in college to Central America in college, and since then has led HSP to foster agency and empower Indigenous communities by providing opportunities for education, community organization, supporting social entrepreneurs, and addressing health and poverty in the face of shifting political arenas and environmental changes.

more in politics

Richmond’s Next Mayor? Get To Know Dr. Danny Avula

Here’s my conversation with Dr. Danny Avula, candidate for Mayor of Richmond VA. This completes the set of all my conversations with Richmond’s prospective Mayors for November 2024. One of these people is going to be leading the city next year. Who it’s going to be is...

Dystopian View of VCU’s Graduation Walkout

The Greater Richmond Convention Center has undoubtedly experienced more prosperous times. The recent walkout by Virginia Commonwealth University graduates highlighted a series of declining events in Richmond, marked by police confrontations during protests and the...

RVA 5X5 Deep Dive: Parking Decks, Debt & Trap Doors

On Wednesday afternoon at 3:00pm in City Council Chambers, City Council will vote and approve the plan presented by the Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to allow the city to issue $170 million in bonds to pay for the new baseball stadium on ten acres...

DEA Plans to Reclassify Marijuana: Understanding the Impact

In a groundbreaking shift that would redefine the landscape of American drug policy, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is looking at reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug. This initiative, revealed by sources to The Associated Press, involves...

Police Crackdown on VCU Campus Palestine Protests

Once again in Richmond, law enforcement showed little restraint against protesters. Protests against the United States' involvement in Gaza have been ongoing in Richmond on a regular basis for nearly seven months. The first rally in Richmond since Israel began major...