Chapter Eleven – Step Into The Light
By Steven Maisenbacher
My earliest memories of this day are being in school. I might have been six or seven years old and the teacher had us all draw turkeys. What we did was lay our little fat pudgy kid hands on paper and trace around it with a pencil. Then we drew a little beard on the end of the thumb and an eyeball and made a little beak. Some of us even got adventuresome and tried to figure out if turkeys had ears and if so how did you draw ears on a turkey. At the end of the day we took our little turkey hand drawings home and proudly presented to mom. She put it on the refrigerator in honor of this day, Thanksgiving.
Now, universally, Thanksgiving is known as the day that the Indians and the pilgrims had a big feast and they were all friends and they were all happy. The truth of the matter is it didn’t go down like this but they didn’t want you to know that when you were a kid so what they told you was the pilgrims and the Indians had that feast and they were all happy and they were all friends that’s how everything went.
When the pilgrims came to this land after being thrown out of their own or left in exile, most were running for their lives because of their religious beliefs and the fact that they were being persecuted, jailed, beaten, put in stocks for what they believed, for their own approach to the Creator. They got here in the “new world” or what is now the United States and didn’t have a clue on how to cultivate food or hunt for meat in our lands, so they began to starve.
The Natives saw this and because we are a people of giving and understanding and kindness, we helped them. We welcomed them into our world, we fed them and we gave them food to take home to their families so that they would be able to eat another day. When spring came around we sent delegations of our people to their people to teach them how to plant and cultivate food in this new land they had come to so that they could praise and pray to their God without being persecuted.
Didn’t go over so well with them though. Too many were not willing to spend the work or the time to nurture the crops so when the crops failed and winter approached they began starving again in their villages. So once again we came to them with our arms open taking them into our world and feeding them, befriending them and making things right for them and again showed them the compassion of our God, our Creator or our concept of creation. Never once did we claim our way was the right way, only that we had learned with the help of our Creator how to live in harmony with the Creator and the land and learned to sustain ourselves with the crops that we grew with the blessings of our Mother Earth we were upon.
Again they were not satisfied, and as winter broached bringing its icy fingers and chilling winds, the pilgrims decided the best plan was to come and raze the villages of the Indians, to attack them and take what they wanted be it food, hides, tools or lives. After these raids the pilgrims went back to their village and they had a feast with the food of the people they had just attacked; the same people who fed them, sheltered them and taught them how with labor and care to grow their own crops, to hunt their own game, to sustain their own way of life in order to approach their Creator in their own way.
They don’t tell you this when you’re little; they don’t tell you the truth. After all, how do you tell a child that it’s okay to attack and harm another person just because they have more than you or they believe differently than you or they feel differently than you or they live differently than you even if the way they are living was right and just and fair and kind and giving and trusting?
I’m not trying to harsh your vibe on this of all days. Today I give thanks and you have no idea how blessed I feel today. I will go and eat with my family, my people who are good and kind, generous, trusting and flawed just like Indians. Maybe the first time I’ve been able to be with them in more than 30 years. I’m nervous and I’m scared. After all, the tables I have eaten around for the past 30 years were filled with people that act like pilgrims, including myself. With the help of the Creator, I brought about a change in myself. With the teachings and guidance of wise elders, I was nurtured like that corn plant; it grew up into a beautiful stalk and produced ears of corn that in turn fed all the other people around it, helping them survive and thrive.
That’s kind of how I feel now. I’m growing the ears of corn, trying to produce, to feed others with my knowledge, my understanding, my compassion. I just want people to know there are better ways than being like an ungrateful pilgrim, not that there’s a better way to approach the Creator but because the approach to the Creator is a personal Journey, there is no wrong way to go to God, humbly seeking enlightenment, whether it be the ability to help others and feel good in doing it or to help yourself and feel better when you do.
This is just an observation from an Indian who has spent over half his life acting like a pilgrim. This is my first Thanksgiving free of captivity in 30 years. Today I choose to be an Indian, in my thinking, my mannerisms, my approach to the Creator and most of all in my approach to you. I will give to you. I will feed you. I’ll take you into my home or into my world as it is, and I will protect you while you’re there with all that I am able. I will give thanks for you being there and thanks for me being able to be with you.
I won’t forget the sacrifices that it takes to be an Indian. I won’t forget the lives lost or taken on either side. I won’t allow the discussion to be about desperation or entitlement or selfishness. What I will do is say if you’re hungry come to me I’ve got some food. If you need shelter come to me, I’ve got three blankets. I don’t need three blankets, I’ll give you one of them. If you need someone to pray with, come to me. I’ll pray with you and be honored to do so. My approach might be a little different than yours but it’s still going to the same place – the same Being, the same Great Mystery. And if you trust me long enough I will show you that we can do this with kindness in our hearts, peace in our souls so finally we can give thanks together.
I understand that some Native people want to call this a national day of mourning but I think we should call it a national day of celebration for I have something more to be thankful for today. After all that’s been done to our people we have stood strong in our resilience. We have been able to produce loving families, doctors, lawyers, educators, writers, artists, entertainers and so many others who have helped our people in so many ways.
So you can mourn if you want to. That’s your business but this is coming straight from the heart of an old man. I choose to celebrate who I am and what I am. I’m tired of falling back on the same old stories, the same old angers, the same old excuses. I choose to celebrate my people and who we are and how we heal.
Please understand, I’m Walks On The Grass and I will never surrender.