Today I want to share with you the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address.

To be honest, for much of my life, I really struggled with both the idea and emotion of gratitude. It wasn’t that I couldn’t appreciate things, but gratitude, especially when it felt like it was being elicited, made me want to rebel.

Thanksgiving is a case in point: it’s great to celebrate, but I’m wary of nationalism. And the original Thanksgiving story—and the history behind it— is deeply problematic. So how do we celebrate and feel gratitude even in the face of contradiction and difficulty?

My Buddhist practices have helped me come to a larger perspective and see the inter-being of all things, and that helped me shift my relationship to gratitude.

And reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s amazing book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants also gave me a new and, for me, much more comfortable relationship to gratitude. Kimmerer helped me place gratitude in relation to the earth and the natural world. In one chapter of the book, she shares the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s Thanksgiving Address, and I want to share part of that with you today:

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

Greetings to the Natural World

The People

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.

Now our minds are one.

The Earth Mother

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Waters

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms- waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.

Now our minds are one.

The Fish

We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Plants

Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.

Now our minds are one.

The Food Plants

With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Medicine Herbs

Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.

Now our minds are one.

The Animals

We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.

Now our minds are one

The Trees

We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.

Now our minds are one.

The Birds

We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds-from the smallest to the largest-we send our joyful greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Four Winds

We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.

Now our minds are one.

The Thunderers

Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.

Now our minds are one.

The Sun

We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.

Now our minds are one.

Grandmother Moon

We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.

Now our minds are one.

The Stars

We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars.

Now our minds are one.

The Enlightened Teachers

We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.

Now our minds are one.

The Creator

Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.

Now our minds are one.

Closing Words

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.

Now our minds are one.

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This translation of the Mohawk version of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address was developed, published in 1993, and provided, courtesy of: Six Nations Indian Museum and the Tracking Project All rights reserved.

The Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address is not just for one day of the year; rather, it’s for everyday. Also called the Words that Come Before All Else, it’s recited before any ceremony, any big conversation, and every day at the Onandaga Nation elementary school Kimmerer visited and writes about.

Can you imagine starting every day with a deep thanks for the earth and waters and plants and animals?

Here gratitude conjures up no image of a vassal leaning in thanks before his lord who grants blessings or apologies, as in the medieval world view that still frames so much of our contemporary western world. Instead, this gratitude situates us in the great web of all life, with all beings, and helps us remember the true miracle that it is to be alive and our deep relationship with all things.

I also highly recommend Braiding Sweetgrass for anyone who is looking for an inspiring book to read! Kimmerer has a deep, complex understanding of the natural world and her description of the complexity and wisdom of plant life makes me want to learn more and more and kiss the earth in wonder. She writes with the ear of a poet with deep love and reverence, but she does not sugar coat the history of what has happened on this land or the ongoing and worsening devastation. Instead, she helps us respond to this destruction not with despair but rather with renewed urgency.

When I see myself as part of this great, complex ecosystem that supports all of us, I find that gratitude arises naturally in me.

Here are some writing prompts you might enjoy to help cultivate gratitude:

Writing Prompts inspired by the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

writing prompts "Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address"

 

  1. Directly address something that you have gratitude for.
  2. Find some part of the natural world around you that you might normally think of as very small—a leaf, an acorn, a bit of soil, anything that strikes your fancy—and write a piece expressing gratitude toward it
  3. Write a piece that expresses gratitude for the place that you grew up. Be as specific and use as many details as possible in describing that place
  4. Write a piece expressing gratitude for this moment, just as it is, with all its ordinariness or struggle or imperfection and/or wonderfulness.

I always recommend meditating before writing. You can download my meditation recordings and many more free resources on my free resources page.

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