What is Thanksgiving really about?
Well, it is another Nomad Thanksgiving day for me. And while my American brothers and sisters are busy being grateful for Butterballs, the NFL, and $100 Sony TVs on Black Friday, I sit here, alone in the forest, and contemplate gratitude. Do I have a right to feel grateful for having this gorgeous forest camp all to myself? For the sky and the trees and the crunchy autumn leaves?
My mind returns to the remembrance of a tweet from a man of the Cherokee Nation after “Nomadland” came out. “Nomadland is literally a film that wistfully celebrates how white people have ability to become ‘free’ in land evacuated of Indigenous peoples.” he wrote.
My immediate gut reaction was to deny his interpretation. Yet, months after reading this tweet, it has stuck with me. Is it true?
Yeah, it kind of is…
Today, I will give in to that truth.
Today, I acknowledge how privileged I am to live life the way I do; to walk once-sacred grounds, to be one with the trees, the birds, the sky, to feel as though I have a right to this public land, and this life that was stripped away from others.
Original Nomad Life
Nomading is not new. First Nation people have been nomads for tens of thousands of years. The Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and other Plains tribes followed the Buffalo and lived in Tipis. We tend to forget this fact and instead, self-righteously believe we are the pioneers of modern-day America. Boldly shunning a world we do not fit in, do not want, and did not ask for. Sure, in that way we have much in common with the Indigenous Peoples.
But in reality, we could not be more different. Colonialism, war, assimilation, broken treaties, and time have made me the de-facto beneficiary of something lost–no, that’s too easy–something stolen.
So what is Thanksgiving supposed to mean for non-native Americans then? I really don’t know. But I can not just celebrate the day without recognizing this truth.
Let today be a day of honor.
Today, I will make new traditions that will honor and embrace the people, the culture, and the way of life that was vanquished; all but erased from our culture.
Today, I will walk in the woods and let my feet carry my mind to a world that could have been. An old world that is pure, meaningful, and buried too deep beneath the mores of productivity, progress, and profit of today’s world.
Today, I will meditate (oh who am I kidding, I’ll sit in the pine needles and try to pretend I don’t hear the freeway a couple miles away). I’ll watch the trees sway in the wind, shedding their fall sweaters. I’ll watch Sadie sniff out every log and branch and trapper’s hole in the ground. I’ll listen to the birds and breathe in the cool crisp morning air.
Let today be humbling.
Today, I will give thanks to the people, the culture, the way of life that was lost so that I could have the life I do.
Today I will be thankful to our mother Earth, the provider of all life.
Today, I will prepare my camp for rain and wonder what it would have been like living in a tipi during the rain.
I will make a meal and imagine the same ingredients: sweet potato, corn, and onions picked from a garden or field from the tribal camp.
I will contemplate my fortune and my privilege, paying homage to the brave warriors(Dahnawa Danatlihi in Cherokee), mothers(Okasu in Algonquian), and children(wah-ky-yeh-ja in Lakota- literally meaning “sacred gift”) who should be here, celebrating this glorious day alongside me.