A book club led by PeaceWorks Kansas City Director Kristin Scheer is reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants. During the PeaceWorks Memorial Day peace witness, Kristin shared these excerpts from the book’s chapter “Allegiance to Gratitude.”
Within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, children recite the Thanksgiving Address, a river of words as old as the people themselves, known in the Onondaga language as “The Words That Come Before All Else.” This ancient order of protocol sets gratitude as the highest priority.
In this ritual, their teachers remind them that every day, “beginning where our feet first touch the Earth, we send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world.”
The children take turns reciting words they’ve heard nearly every day of their lives. They recite: “Today we have gathered. We have been given the duty to live in harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People.” And they all respond, “Now our minds are one.”
The children say, “We are thankful to our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love and respect.” And all respond, “Now our minds are one.”
We give thanks to all of the waters of the world for quenching our thirst, for providing strength and nurturing life for all beings. We are grateful that the waters are still here and meeting their responsibility to the rest of Creation. Can we agree that the water is important to our lives and bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to the Water? Now our minds are one.
This ritual is also known as “Greetings and Thanks to the Natural World.” As it goes forward, each element of the ecosystem is named in its turn. They give greetings and thanks to the fish, and the plants, and the berries, to the gardens and the medicine herbs and the trees. They give greetings and thanks to the animals and the birds, to the winds and the sun and the stars and the moon. Now our minds are one.
Imagine raising children in a culture in which gratitude is the first priority. Each part of creation is thanked in turn for fulfilling its Creator-given duty to the others. It reminds you every day that you have enough. More than enough. Everything needed to sustain life is already here. When we do this every day, it leads to an outlook of contentment and respect for all of Creation.
You can’t listen to the Thanksgiving Address without feeling wealthy. And while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates fullness, but the economy needs emptiness. Gratitude doesn’t send you out shopping for satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy.
The Thanksgiving Address is a reminder that we human beings are not in charge of the world, but are subject to the same forces as all of the rest of life.
What would it be like to be raised on gratitude, to speak to the natural world as a member of the democracy of species, to raise a pledge of interdependence? No declaration of political loyalty, just a repeated question: Can we agree to be grateful for all that is given? In the Thanksgiving Address, I hear respect toward all our nonhuman relatives, not to one political entity, but to all life. What happens to nationalism, to political boundaries, when allegiance lies with winds and waters?
Haudenosaunee decision-making proceeds from consensus. A decision is made only when our minds are one, a brilliant preamble to negotiation, strong medicine for soothing partisan fervor. What if our leaders first found common grounds before fighting over their differences?
The words are simple but in the art of their joining, they become a powerful political document, a social contract, a way of being. But first and foremost a credo for a culture of gratitude.
Let us pledge reciprocity with the living world as a human delegation to the democracy of species. If we want to grow good citizens, then let us teach reciprocity. If what we aspire to is justice for all, then let it be justice for all of Creation.
© Robin Wall Kimmerer, Kristin Scheer, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.