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Happy Thanksgiving!

Time sure has a way of marching regardless of whether or not you can keep up. It has been a while since I have been able to post anything. I completely missed the Halloween blog I had planned, and am only part way through the one about Iceland. Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays, will not go by unremarked.

Although the presence and contributions of Native Americans to the United States version of Thanksgiving is not ignored, too often it is glossed over or left as a side note, as the more important dinner menu, football game and Black Friday sales take precedence. In light of this fact, I have chosen three books that center on Native American stories although they do not have any direct connection to the Thanksgiving holiday itself. Although all have a darkness and bitterness to them, they do leave the reader with an element of hope.

Nonfiction: Almost two years ago now in a used bookshop, I came across an older book (1994) on New England history entitled The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America by John Demos. The story centers on a Native American raid in 1704 i n Deerfield, Massachusetts, as part of the Intercolonial Wars. This particular attack had to do just as much with English land grabbing of Native American territories as it did with politics between the French and the British. In the attack, Puritan minister John Williams and his family are taken captive and marched to Montreal, Canada. Only three survived the journey: Williams himself, his daughter, Eunice, and one son. While Williams and his son were quickly redeemed, Eunice was taken to Kahnawake, an Iroquois settlement and Catholic mission, located across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. There she was adopted into a Mohawk family, lost her command of the English language, and converted to Catholicism. At 16, Eunice was finally given the choice to return to Massachusetts or stay in Canada. as she had recently been married to a Native American, she chose to stay in Kahnawake. Concerned equally if not more so with her spiritual well being as with her physical health, Eunice’s family never lost hope that she would some day return. This book has a special focus on the spiritual attitudes of the day, and displays a strong sensitivity to all participants in a particularly painful saga. I was particularly interested in the explanation of why Eunice would decide to stay with her Mohawk family rather than return to her biological family.

Eventually, Native American/Canadian descendents of Eunice Williams visited Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1837, and attended church. The text for that particular Sunday service was Acts 17:26, 27: “God . . . hath made of one blood all nations of men, and hath determined the times, the places, and circumstances in which they should live, in order to accomplish his designs of impartial benevolence and general good . . .”

Fiction: Skip ahead almost 300 years and across the United States. Sherman Alexie is a member of the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Native American tribe. He is a well-known author who has depicted life for modern Native Americans, both on and off the reservation. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is usually found in the teen section along with other novels. However, a comparison with his memoir of his mother, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, shows that much of this book is autobiographical. Although the style, written as a diary from a 14 year old boy, is flippant and sarcastic, it is deep and painful. The boy, Arnold, or Junior, has a no winnable set of choices. He can either stay on the reservation, keep his friends and family, but remain poor and die young, or have a chance of survival by leaving the reservation to attend a white high school but be seen as a traitor to his people. This book is full of quotes that literally reach out and slap you. I will leave you with two.

“They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.” (11)

“‘I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,’ I said. ‘By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not.’” (176)

Children’s Book: The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin could easily be mistaken for just a Native American version of Cinderella. However, according to the author, this is an original Algonquin tale. Much like Cinderella, the Rough-Face girl has two unkind, but beautiful, older sister who make her do all of the chores including tending the fire by which she is often burned, thus earning her nickname. Every maiden in the village wants to marry the Invisible Being, a strong and noble brave who lives in the village. Only the girl who can prove she has truly seen him will be able to marry him. In keeping with Native American culture, the natural world is a major part of the story, because the Invisible Being manifests himself in nature. Not only does the Rough-Face girl truly see the Invisible Being, but he, too, sees her, past her scars to what really makes a person valuable.

Tea: Many of the early European settlers to North America suffered from scurvy, a disease caused by the lack of vitamin C. A recent article estimates that half of the settlers at the St. Croix colony (between Maine and New Brunswick) established by Samuel de Champlain 16 years before Plymouth died of this painful illness. The sad truth is it was preventable. All they needed to do was drink pine needle tea, a beverage Native Americans drank regularly. I actually like pine needle tea, though it definitely has a strong and unique flavor; it tastes sappy and just like a pine tree smells. You can buy pine needle tea online, but if you have long needled, white pine trees near you, I recommend brewing your own. Just wash and chop the needles and add boiling water. I prefer a little sugar, as well.

If pine needles are not your thing, try Japanese Genmaicha tea. Popcorn was a gift from the Native Americans, and Genmaicha tea has a decidedly popcorn flavor, although it is made from green tea and brown rice and contains no popcorn. It is delicious.

A third option is a pumpkin (another Native American food) chai latte. Many tea companies from Twinings to Tazo offer many options.

"My grandmother's last act on earth was a call for forgiveness, love, and tolerance."

- Sherman Alexie, The Diary of a Part Time Indian, 157


Artwork credited to Aurora Draws - contact for more details

All photographs by the author

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