As a child, I loved Thanksgiving. It was the only time of the year that my mother cooked with sage. She made jello with shredded carrots and sweet potatoes decorated in pineapples, maraschino cherries, and pecans. There was stuffing and gravy and mashed potatoes. The menu is probably similar to the meals served in your home. Much of the focus of this day is on food, in remembrance of a feast between strangers, and for many of us, it’s one day of the year to simply be grateful for our blessings.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve lost my religion. I’ve become more conservative and more patriotic. Even as open my eyes to the appalling origins of Thanksgiving, the idea of the holiday remains with me, complete with its romantic shine. And today, I will embrace my family and be grateful for them.
My own Cherokee heritage is a small fraction of my DNA, but next to Japanese, it is the culture I feel most connected to. That could be inherited from my parents or gleaned from having grown up near Shoshoni country and Lakota as well. It goes without saying that these tribes, and their people, are not what they once were. Native Americans represent about 1% of the US population, and for the most part, they live in abject poverty. Their option for breaking free of the vicious cycles that many find plague their families over generations is to leave the protection of tribal law behind, along with what remains of their ancestor’s language and ritual. Languages and rituals that one step closer to extinct with every person who makes that choice.
Today, I would like to express my respect for those Native Americans who honor their ancestors by keeping the old ways alive. Their diligence is a gift to us all. Because of them, I can learn about my Cherokee ancestors and share stories with my son someday, perhaps over turkey and mashed potatoes.