My family always celebrated Thanksgiving, no matter if we were in Teheran, London or Salinas, California. And while we grew up knowing we were descendents of Osage and Lakota forebears, it wasn’t until college that I came to appreciate native traditions.
Native students and faculty hosted large gatherings on campus during Thanksgiving, with piles of food from myriad traditions.
My University of Oregon pal Rob Proudfoot (First Nations) would cook rice, a tradition in his family but one that escaped me. I once asked my mother what she remembered about Osage traditions and she recalled that her grandmother would furnish fruit she had dried after the harvest.
My first Thanksgiving at college reinforced some of my family traditions that I hadn’t equated with native traditions. For example, elders always ate first in my family, so I was surprised when the faculty host announced that elders would be served first. Just like home.
Foods included venison stew, turkey and salmon, with armloads of potatoes, squash and rice. Guests brought green beans, red beans and brussel sprouts. Desserts warranted their own table, piled high with pies, ice cream, brownies and cookies. There was lots of coffee and juice. No alcohol.
Before we would eat, an elder would pray. He or she would speak to Wahkontah asking for blessings for the food and family. My cousin in Oklahoma says she remembers elders asking thanks for: “the food, the cooks, the families gathered, the ancestors to teach us the way to be, to ask Father God to help us be better and be good to each other, to ask God to always stay with us and watch us, prayers for the sick, blessing as we go forward into a new day, safety from evil, prayers for the elders and prayers for the children.”