The Gifts of Remembering

As the Tewa People say, “to remember to remember”: to give thanks, to be in reciprocity, and to stay connected through prayer, song, dance, and ceremony, in community” – Suzanne Benally, Navajo and Santa Clara Tewa  

I remember holidays in Ethiopia revolving around biblical saints. All of us would dress in white, flood the churches with our songs of forgiveness and blessings. Offer flowers, prayers, and money if we could – then leave for crowded homes filled with food, music, laughter, and children being coo-ed to sleep. Leftover conversations would be picked up over coffee ceremonies and popcorn and by the end of the night, we were full.  Nurtured by laughter, connection, and feeling a little more whole and energized to face another day.  

This November holiday has similar sentiments, gatherings, and flavors, just with a tangier, more sinister after taste. On our team of six, Cristina grew up in the Bahamas, Beth, Morgan, Liz, and Lindsay grew up in the States, and I grew up all over the world. Coming from different lived experiences and cultures, the American traditions for this holiday reached all of us in some way shape or form. For each of our families, this holiday was centered around gratitude, togetherness of family and friends, and sharing the little or a lot that we had with those who had less. No conversations delt with the origin story behind the holiday. It was drowned out by football, laughter, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, butter, stuffing, mac and cheese, and turkey. 

Morgan recalls that coming from a churchgoing family, every Sunday was a time that family gathered, ate, and shared their gratitude and their lows from the week. So, when the fourth Thursday of November came around it did not feel different from any other Sunday dinner gathering. Cristina’s mom was not attached to celebrating the holiday and focused on quality time together, cooking and enjoying a delicious meal, and giving back to the community. Cristina remembers scouring the cupboards with her brothers and gathering non-perishable foods to take to food drives at her school and church.  

Liz and her family are Haida, the reason behind the holiday was largely ignored because they all knew that it was a drummed-up lie. Her family would gather at her grandparents’ home in Ballard, share food, stories, and delight in each other’s presence. Her favorite bites were her grandma’s ready-made dough croissants that she would sometimes help fold and roll into perfect little crescents, and her father’s turkey, that he took so much pride in preparing and sharing. Elders spoke Haida to each other when they had some juicy gossip or didn’t want the kids to know what they were saying. The kids would huddle to watch TV in her grandpa’s room, maneuvering the bunny ears to catch a movie through static images, while the adults sat around and chatted in the living room. They indigenized the gathering in their own way.  

Lindsay’s holiday celebrations also took place at her grandparents’ house, they had little candle figurines of pilgrims, turkeys, and corn cobs on the table as centerpieces. She would play “house” with them when she was a wee one.  She read books and watched movies about the “First Thanksgiving.” It was her favorite holiday because it was a time where her family came together to share stories, laughter, tears, hugs, and dreams for the future. Her grandparents’ kitchen would smell of brussels sprouts and stuffing, which she hated as a child but loves as an adult. She participated in the festivities fully, watching everyone weave in and out, doing their part, whether it was cooking, cleaning, taking shifts laying on couches, and packing leftovers for the next day.  

What are your earliest memories of this November holiday? How has it changed over time? Does truth have a seat at your celebration table and where? How are you honoring your ancestors and growing your field of gratitude and thanks as you grow old and closer to the earth and become an ancestor?  

For all of us, this holiday wasn’t centered around the myth of the pilgrims and Indigenous peoples’ “peaceful gathering”. We came to know later in our lives that that was a violent lie. Lindsay shares that even though her parents were scrupulous about sharing her African American heritage and history, they said virtually nothing about the history of Indigenous people. This omittance perpetuates white supremacy and the delegitimization of Indigenous people and their rights to the lands that they stewarded and are stewarding. Nick Estes points out that this country operates from the perspective of, if there were no settlers, there was no history. To break away from the lie can result in being called “unpatriotic and just wanting to shit on America”, families feeling betrayed, because why would you break from tradition? And friends begin to distance themselves because you’re not keeping the code of silence and you’re overreacting. If we’re lucky, we find chosen family who honor the deepening of gratitude and relationships as well as taking time to reflect on the brutality, grief, and lessons that came from the purposeful erasure of Indigenous communities at every level.   

The whitewashed and romanticized narrative that schoolbooks still teach today has kept our nation incapacitated from addressing and making amends for the atrocities that have been administered and allowed to take place. Ruth Wilson Gilmore says that “people in the United States and beyond have a habit of looking away. People look away from permanent war, look away from settler colonialism, look away from racism, look away from class war.” Yes, there are many overwhelming and valid reasons for this: capitalism, oppression, isolation, poverty and so on and if we do not tend to this wound, it festers and gets worse for all of us. At Threshold Philanthropy, it is imperative that we tell whole stories, because we have felt the direct impacts of lies, half-truths, and false comforts. They have resulted in the erasure of our true names, our families, our homes, and our histories. It behooves us to remember what happened and to preserve the life-giving elements in order to grow authentic relationships built on dignity and grace. These steps are a way for us to not commit the same crimes, and moreover to honor and remember forward our ancestor’s’ sacrifice and the sacredness of their struggles, loves, and joys, so that our work is guided by humility, truth, and love.  

Morgan says that the gift of remembering is a form of resiliency without having to retraumatize ourselves. This work of remembering is a continuum, and the work that we are doing today was enabled by people who took steps to engage in truth telling hundreds of years ago. The work that we are doing right now will transform the future and create communities where our children only know the true history and never have to unlearn as we all did. Lindsay remembers learning the truth of this holiday in a book entitled Lies my Teacher Told Me, in college! That title alone should be enough for us to act, it is more than disheartening, that we are actively choosing to reshare, retraumatize, and indoctrinate more generations into a deadly lie. To only wait for them to come of age and then tell them the truth like they couldn’t handle it. We cannot imagine what this daily erasure and lie can feel like for people who are of this land, because it’s not just this holiday, it’s EVERDAY. When we talk about betrayal, destruction, ostracization, and the human cost, the soul cost, of not telling the truth, Indigenous people are still bearing the brunt. Why are we passing on our shame, when we have so much awe, sweetness, creativity, courage, and love to pass on? Liz learned the twisted story of the settlers and their interactions with the Wampanoag people when she became more in touch with her triable and cultural teachings. She states that remembering allows us to celebrate the courage and love of this Nation’s indigenous people in the face of colonization, theft and genocide. Take a moment, breathe in, say a prayer, if that fills and encourages you to believe that we can change, breathe out, and know that we are.  

     The light made an opening in the darkness. 

    Everyone worked together to make a ladder. 

    A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world, 

   And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children, 

   And their children, all the way through time— 

   To now, into this morning light to you. Joy Harjo 

Joy Harjo’s poem above is called Once the World was Perfect. She talks about what happens when we forget that life, all life, is precious and not to be taken for granted. That fear, greed, envy, and hatred put out the light. In this moment, truth is the light, and like her poem the reason we have come this far is with the support of each other and our deep need to be free and whole. Bryan Stevenson says that “You cannot skip the truth part, and just jump to the reconciliation, because until you have a diagnosis, you don’t know what the treatment should be.” Whether you call it Thanksgiving, Decolonization Day, Truthgiving, Thingstaken, Friendsgiving etc.…we encourage you to learn and practice with curiosity and courage, what does it means to be in authentic, respectful, and reverent relationship with First Nations people? Remember, it is not Indigenous people’s purpose to teach us. For folks who are descendants from stolen people living on stolen people’s land, that positionality is a nuanced and specific orientation. One way is to learn and honor both lineages and struggles for our collective liberation and sovereignty. We need each other. Our commitment at Threshold Philanthropy is to return resources and deepen in relationship with the Indigenous communities we work with, and support. We are committed to authentic friendships and the creation of spaces of healing, repair, reciprocity, creativity, and joy. 

 Priya Parker talks about the importance of transitions and that “helping people transition from one state to another is embedded in many rituals of traditional societies.” We’ve written previously about how change does not happen overnight because we are messy, indoctrinated people who do not show up with “a blank slate”. So, let’s go! Let’s usher and carry this myth to its rightful resting place and cross the threshold together, to a tomorrow led with dignity and belonging. Threshold Philanthropy is committed to taking a whole week off to contemplate, reenergize, and rest. If you do get this holiday off (many people do not) and are desiring to honor First Nations people and are wondering what is the “right” way to do that and enjoy food, family, and football? We’re here to remind you that we are not experts and that each of us are practicing different ways to celebrate and show reverence for First Nations people. For Lindsay and her family, who call it Decolonization Day, they take the time to share the truth from Indigenous authors and frameworks about the lands, waters, and the sacred relationships that First Nations people have with the earth and the terror that was brought on by colonization. They also continue the tradition of service and sharing what they have with others, as a practice of honoring the covenant of love of humanity and the abundance of the earth. They spend this day focusing on how and what they consume, contribute, and celebrate, steered by Indigenous knowledge. That’s just one way to center First Nation’s’ wisdom, people, and history. Whatever you do this holiday make room at your tables, couches, and gatherings to commemorating the strength, resolve, and tenacity of First Nations.  

This month’s blog felt more vulnerable for us to write and share. There is so much more to learn and practice, and we hope you will appreciate and get into the recommendations in our newsletter. Our intention was to write from the heart and acknowledge that the harms that were and are being committed on Indigenous, First Nations people, still need to be addressed and healed. We encourage all of us to listen with humility, friendship, and let yourself be moved and transformed towards repair and restoration. If this writing and framing has trespassed and caused harm and misinformation, please come to me, and let me know. This is what it means to practice getting free in public.  

“I want to remember that my most recently transitioned ancestors were messy. They overcame some of the hardest things, and they made missteps and perpetuated oppression. I want to remember that I come from strong, messy-AF people and that I am whole and loved because of them. I also want to remember that I have a responsibility to do my part to interrupt our lineage of messiness in this lifetime.” Lindsay Hill 

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