Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address Greetings to the Natural World

By Patty L. Buchanan

Haudenosaunee Flag; credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iroquois

Our modern-day Thanksgiving holiday has its roots in the coming together of the Indigenous North American people and the early European settlers.  Our current environmental crisis stems from our fissure in our relationship with the natural world, a relationship Indigenous people hold sacred.  Indigenous people live in daily and open recognition of their interconnectedness with the natural world.  Today, like every day, we should consider aligning with Indigenous culture by pausing in gratitude for the blessings the natural world shares with us, and our obligation to live in harmony with her by graciously accepting her gifts and by not taking more than we need. 

Image Credit: Edward Moran’s (1829–1901) Henrik Hudson Entering New York Harbor, September 11, 1609; painted in 1892 Hudson Valley Magazine, HVmag.com; Discover the Hudson Valley’s Native American History, by David Levine

Here in Croton, we live in the natural world that had been inhabited by the Lanape people, when the Europeans arrived in this region’s balanced natural bounty.  Archeologists believe that human presence in Croton spans back 7,000 years.  They say that our Village was named for the Lanape sachem (Chief) Kenotem “Wild Wind.”  

There’s a wonderful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer that shares insights about “Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of the Plants.”  I was introduced to the Haudenosaunee’s Thanksgiving Address when I first read Braiding Sweetgrass.  

Please, set aside 20 minutes of quiet time to recite and reflect upon the Haudenosaunee‘s Thanksgiving Address, which comes from Indigenous people who inhabit the Central region of present day New York State.  It is known in the Onondaga language as the “Words That Come Before All Else.”  Ms. Kimmerer explains in her book that the Thanksgiving Address is “far more than a pledge, a prayer or a poem alone,” it is “at heart an invocation of gratitude . . . a material, scientific inventory of the natural world.”  It invokes the “ancient order of protocols” which “sets gratitude as the highest priority.”  She says that “as it goes forward, each element of the ecosystem is named in its turn, along with its function.

Image Credit:https://milkweed.org/book/braiding-sweetgrass

It is a lesson in Native science.”  The Thanksgiving Address is not a one-day-a-year concept, it is a ritual that should be invoked every day, as Onondaga teachers remind its reciters “beginning with where our feet first touch the earth.”  Traditionally, the Thanksgiving Address is recited in a circle of people.  Please consider how to fold it into your day:

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address Greetings to the Natural World 

The People 

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. 

Now our minds are one. 

The Earth Mother 

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks. 

Now our minds are one.

The Waters 

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms- waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water. 

Now our minds are one. 

The Fish 

We turn our minds to all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks. 

Now our minds are one. 

The Plants 

Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come. 

Now our minds are one.

The Food Plants 

With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks. 

Now our minds are one. 

The Medicine Herbs 

Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines. 

Now our minds are one. 

The Animals 

We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so. 

Now our minds are one

The Trees 

We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life. 

Now our minds are one. 

The Birds 

We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds-from the smallest to the largest-we send our joyful greetings and thanks. 

Now our minds are one. 

The Four Winds 

We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds. 

Now our minds are one. 

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