Let's explore a little of the known documented history of the American Celebration of Thanksgiving.
During the American Civil War in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the day of Thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday of the month of November. Thanksgiving officially became a federal holiday declared by the US government in 1898. There are a few conflicting dates about the first celebration being in Florida in 1492, but let's focus on one everyone associates with the Pilgrims.
There was one Thanksgiving that appeared a little bit like what was taught in modern American grade school. In the early 1620s, Pilgrims invited the local natives for a feast to establish communication and negotiations with the Wampanoag people who lived in the area. These local natives had survived the explorer’s slavery ships and the diseases left behind. They had also been defending the coastline, building knowledge and distrust of the Europeans for almost 100 years. The Wampanoag people also wished to meet to find some way to begin communications with the newcomers. This treaty was no easy feat for both groups as it was a step to establish survival between the different cultures. It did work for a short time, allowing the Pilgrims to learn how to grow food and survive in this new world. However, this treaty didn't last long, as the Pilgrims saw the natives as a necessary tool for survival but also viewed them as savage people, like animals, and unequal to themselves. The Pilgrims viewed themselves as being the chosen purity of God. The news of this new world and a peace treaty was spread in Europe and more colonists started to cross the sea to claim their piece of land.
The Massachusetts Bay Massacre of over 700 Pequot natives happened during their Green Corn Ceremony (a native thanksgiving ceremony) a few years later in 1637. This massacre was celebrated by the colonists as the first day of Thanksgiving and a victory over the savages. The colonists started running continuous raids on indigenous villages killing and capturing people. These raids were followed by a day celebration with a feast of thanks and the beheadings of captured men while the women were sold into slavery. There were so many raids that the amount of celebrations became overwhelming. It was decided by Governor John Winthrop to have one day a year to celebrate “Thanksgiving”. During one of the raids Wampanoag Chief was beheaded and his head was placed on a pole where it remained on display for 24 years.
Sounds a lot different than being thankful to be an American in the land of the free. Pay attention to what emotions that may rise up in you as you read this. Try not to avoid uncomfortable feelings if they are present. Do a survey through your body, mind and note any feelings about what you are experiencing.Take a moment to write it down……
Ask yourself a few questions without judgment. Why do you feel this way? To establish a stronger self awareness, it's important to acknowledge what is happening on an emotional level. This kind of emotional response can not be controlled and is usually an honest experience about how we feel. Whether it is sadness, pride, or indifference …. just notice it.
There are many feelings about historical genocide that can be confusing and difficult to navigate depending on your heritage and background. Maybe you are like myself and find sadness or grief knowing that my ancestors were a part of this genocide. There is a duality of perception if you are willing to understand the colonist’s point of view. The Pilgrims believed they were justified and doing the divine work of God’s will. No matter what your perceptions are, being aware and present with what comes up for you is what’s important here. Beyond the experience of emotion, you now have a choice. What are you going to do with it?
Throughout history there have been a lot of actions that caused another group’s suffering and some feel we cannot change the past or erase history. I am one who agrees with this, and would not want to change the historical record unless we found an unknown historical perspective. My question is this: are we able to heal the past actions of our ancestors? Are we able to forgive the actions of people and ancestors? Can we shift the energy? Some say it's the actions of the people who are living and aware in the present who get to decide. I’d like to believe we can.
Let me share an experience where I learned a little about this concept in the early 2000s. This true story is related to shapeshifting energy on a landscape. I was the director of a summer camp in the hillside of Cherry Valley, a small village in upstate New York. A medicine woman attended the workshops we held to prepare staff for a summer of connecting people with the earth through indigenous teachings, concepts and bushcraft survival skills. She knew the land's history better than myself and the staff. One day she asked the group a question: Where on this land have you avoided spending time? It was a strange thought, because during the training we were all working on raising our awareness and noticing the subtle way nature communicates, like learning tracking and bird language. Two skills heavily practiced during the summer camp and a way of understanding the wilderness on a deep intimate level.
After some discussion we all agreed it was a cleaned and mowed spot next to the workshop and close to t where most people ate lunch during the summer camp. Previous camp staff had commented that even kids avoided the area. She invited us to go there and sit and to tune into our emotional bodies and feel the earth physically. After 30-45 minutes, we all came together in a circle to share what we felt, if anything. Words shared were: loneliness, sorrow, trapped, anxiety, depressed, and many more similar emotions. Needless to say, everyone was feeling fairly low and I was getting a little concerned with the morale of the group. Then she shared the history of that location and of the farm’s previous owners.
This 1⁄2 acre was the location of a series of fox cages where they raised and sold fox pelts for the fur industry. There were foxes who spent their whole lives in small 2-3 foot cages. Never to run, hunt, or touch the earth. We were all shocked and amazed at what we just had experienced and debriefed it for some time afterwards. As we were closing up a younger lady asked what could be done and if we could change the feeling of this spot. The Medicine woman smiled ear-to-ear at this question and responded with another question. “Well, what did your body want to do when you felt trapped, depressed, and anxious?”. She encouraged us to act out the next thing that came into our minds.
Everyone started running and playing tag games, rolling along the side and down a grassy hill. A few of us became foxes and stretched or lounged in the warmth of the sun. She called us all back together after the group's energy was at its highest, and told us all to watch this area and see if the kids would come over here on their own.
We all watched and never forced anyone, yet it started the first week of summer camp during lunch and free time. This little patch of clean mowed grass was the favorite spot for kids to play and roll in the sun. Lots of laughter and fun was in that area all summer long. I imagine it still happens to this day. This was an eye opener for me. I learned a lot about shapeshifting energy and it helped me through many difficult situations for years. Maybe this is just a belief, and maybe one day science will find proof, but I have experienced this many times and in many different ways. I have found that most people can access this ability to shift the energy when they are open to a new experience and unblock their thoughts and withhold their judgments.
There is a Native American concept of healing that does not attempt to make someone or something that is sick into a better state of health, but is instead considered to be supportive towards the next transition. This transition could be a higher vibration of health, but it is not forced. This is similar to the symbolic transformation from a terrestrial caterpillar into an aborail butterfly, and connected to the concept of transitioning into the next experience of life beyond our physical death. I saw the summer camp staff do this that day and we watched the transition through the kids for months. Now what would it take for a culture to come into alignment with the past genocide? What would it take for us to support healing, shapeshifting transitions, and forgiveness?
Do you remember how you felt when you read the history about the first Thanksgiving? Are you able to sit with your feelings and emotions when difficulties arise? Would you like to be able to shape-shift energy as a healing tool when it's needed? As you visit new places or explore where you currently live more deeply, become aware of your subtle feelings that may arise, and allow them to move into the foreground of your thoughts and maybe you can.
I would love to hear about your experiences if you're willing to share them.