The Thanksgiving Address

The Thanksgiving Address

Compiled by Katie Dell

Thanksgiving can be a beautiful holiday filled with traditions, food, and time spent with loved ones. Thanksgiving can also be a complicated holiday to “celebrate” if we take time to recognize the atrocious acts of European Settlers that came before and after a moment of cooperation. Two things can be true. Today, I will gather with my family to eat and recount our many blessings and each year around this time, I am reminded how good it feels to say “Thank You.” Today I will also find a few purposeful moments to reflect on all of the indigenous wisdom that was so carelessly eradicated across our lands. In these moments of reflection, my mind- or perhaps my soul- brings me back to a native tradition of Haudenosaunee (also known as the Iriquois) people. 

This is a tradition of saying thank you, a thank you to the many complex and ever-giving resources of the Earth. The Thanksgiving Address is a tradition I stumbled upon in the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer (a great book, BTW) and a tradition that I continue to strive to make a part of my daily routine. As a white person from European descent, I struggle with whether or not these words are appropriate for me to share, but a line in the book reminds me that Indigenous People have struggled to have their voices heard for centuries, so here we will make a space to uplift them.

These are “The Words That Come Before All Else” which are traditionally used to open and close any gathering of people. 

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

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. 

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. 

Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World English version: John Stokes and Kanawahienton (David Benedict, Turtle Clan/Mohawk) Mohawk version: Rokwaho (Dan Thompson, Wolf Clan/Mohawk) Original inspiration: Tekaronianekon (Jake Swamp, Wolf Clan/Mohawk). 

Available through the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.


Photo by Robyn Pfeifer

Header photo by Alakea Azul