A Different Thanksgiving Story.

Some of us savor Thanksgiving as a feast. Others, as a holi-day of gratitude for the warmth of home, family, friends, or other blessings.

Recently I’ve been listening deeply to the noble Natives of this land; million-strong tribes of people, with thousands of years of wisdom that only recently stopped being passed down. 

It’s come to my attention, it was they who introduced some poverty-stricken and religion-burdened 17th century Europeans to natural abundance and being grateful for it.

Christmas gets all the Black Friday frenzy and most of the twinkly, cheer-filled decor’. Its meanings are widely diffused too; from Jesus’ manger birth, to Santa’s sleigh treks, to ancient pagan celebrations of winter’s womb-like darkness, so necessary for rebirth.

Thanksgiving though, still laser focuses on gratitude—for what we already have

A two sentence story: How Gratitude Has Changed My Life. It freed me to give away truck-loads of stuff, and stop buying more. It helped me really see and cherish people, for exactly who they are.

Gratitude gathers life’s magic front and center; The privilege of every relationship, or chance encounter, with another human. The infinite blessings dropping silently, consistantly, around us—recognized or not. 

Thanksgiving is deeply rooted in Earth’s generous gifts, particularly gifts of food. 

I officially declare food to be a love language. It’s certainly Earth’s love language to every creature at home here. 

But what—you might be asking—about all the starving?  Yes, that’s another story about how we’ve mismanaged Earth’s abundant gifts. Or allowed others to.

We’re taught too little of North American peoples before European settlers began arriving. Which seems odd. There is a wealth of ruins to study and sites to be excavated. For instance, Gunnison Colorado has a human-occupied site that dates to 8,000 BCE. Boulder has one that dates to 11,000 BCE. But it’s sort of tradition for white people to ignore what went on here before. Instead we study and marvel at Egypt’s history, or China’s or Europe’s.

It was early September when my sister and I took a research trip to the four corners area, exploring 1,000-8,000 year old sites in Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Why? Our next books, The Ancestors Series, will be set here in the North American continent, in time periods that are largely unknown. We’ve learned about enormous earthworks and mounds that are abundant across the eastern states. We’re gathering stories about North American pyramids, long torn apart and erased from history, that once rivaled those of Giza. We’re visiting what remains of thriving cities that housed millions across these lands over the last ten thousand years.

These remains tell a very different story than the prevailing narratives today.

That September trip was an unexpected window into the deeper origins of our Thanksgiving holiday. 

Colorado’s “Canyon of the Ancients” has over 30,000 Native American ruins—up to 100 in a square mile. That’s at just one native “monument” in our country. There are hundreds. 

Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, seems very much like the seat of an ancient King or Pharaoh. But alas, nobody knows what the ruling structure was in those times. Against an imposing backdrop of dramatic cliffs, lining a wide valley, are quarried stone and mortar complexes—continuous buildings—that cover 3, 4 and 5 acres. ACRES! To put that in perspective, 88 percent of our shopping malls only cover about 2.5 acres. 

We stood beside six-story-tall walls—and wondered how deep they go, or how tall they originally were. We studied aerial maps of 4 lane roads that were paved, leading out from this majestic place in all directions. We’re still curious about the kivas crowded inside every complex. Kivas also centered groups of smaller buildings scattered up to 9 miles from the largest complexes—the suburbs I guess. Some of these kivas could seat hundreds, others only a dozen. But why so many? And what were the different sizes for? It’s sort of like our midwest where there’s a church on every corner… here there was a kiva around every corner. 

This was obviously a cultural center of manufacturing and long-distance trade. An entire room of macaw skeletons was excavated. Another of raw turquoise, and many areas where it was being cut and polished into jewelry.

Aztec Ruins (misnamed by Spanish explorers) to the north in New Mexico, is a smaller “outpost”, originally connected to Chaco Canyon by 55 miles of road. Surrounded by crop fields of squash, beans and corn, this town was home to 3,000 people, or more. They domesticated turkeys, using their eggs and meat like we use chickens today. Turkey feathers made blankets warmer, or decorated ceremonial gear. Turkey bones became tools.

Which brings us back to Thanksgiving. I pretty much assumed those east-coast Natives who shared their harvest feast with white settlers, just happened to bag wild turkeys, along with deer, on that particular day’s hunt. And so now we obsessively eat turkeys by the millions to celebrate. 

So much for my assumption… and the story told by Settlers. In their defense, there was a language barrier. They probably had no way to distinguish between what was brought to the table from a hunt and what was just grabbed outta the local turkey yard. Turkeys were a year-round staple. 

But it was the primary crops of the Native populations, half a continent away from where Thanksgiving supposedly originated, that stopped me in my tracks. Beans and pumpkin (other squash too) and corn were grown all across this continent. 

So our sacred thanksgiving turkeys and pumpkin pies? Those ain’t about any white European settlers. Those are home-grown gifts from the thriving ancestors of this land we occupy.

Delving further in our research of Native Americans reveals deeply ingrained practices of gratitude. For thousands of years, Native populations were incredibly abundant and they celebrated it. Frequently. They gave thanks to the Great Creator with ceremony, feasts, games and dancing, for the harvests and blessings of every season. We just happened to co-opt the fall celebration. BTW, it should technically be held in October. 

I wonder if my love for Thanksgiving is partially genetic. My paternal grandfather Adair was half to three-quarters Native American and came from Oklahoma in a time when Indian half-breeds were considered the lowest of the lower classes.

One thing we all knew; Grandpa was a mean SOB. But as I learn more of his history, I understand why. He never spoke of his native roots. Some of the family found evidence we may be Apache but there are over 700 Adairs on the Cherokee registries.

This long, dark period of history decimated all of the tribes and made it shameful to be a Native in their own land. But in better times, their—my—ancestors celebrated the original version of Thanksgiving. 

There was no Thanksgiving in England. 

Those pilgrims—the ones in all our Thanksgiving stories—left poor houses and sweatshops, scarcity and severe class systems, iron shackles of religion and academia. 

Finding such freedom and bounty must’ve been overwhelming. 

All evidence points to the noble Natives of this land sharing a feast of plentitude with newly arrived Europeans, and teaching them to give thanks for that abundance with entire days of eating, playing and dancing. It’s a gift that is still giving.

This year I’ll be honoring the Native American ancestors, along with their turkeys and squash and gratitude practices and most of all, the lost story of Native nobility that underlines this holi-day.

For more on the traditional versus more probable story of Thanksgiving, read this;

For more about some of the oldest or most impressive North American sites, see this;

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