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A Very Different Thanksgiving Story

At his blog, Leadership for Lawyers, Mark Beese tells the story of one adventurous boyhood Thanksgiving he spent on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation near Buffalo, N.Y. A local Boy Scout leader named Dan had been able to get an invitation from an Iroquois religious leader to the reservation's mid-winter festival, a Thanksgiving festival in which families gather for three days in a rustic, one-room longhouse lined with benches and heated only by wood stoves at either end. Beese, then a young Boy Scout, was interested in native culture and thrilled at the invitation.

After an elderly woman in traditional dress questioned them and told them the rules they would have to follow, they finally were able to meet their host, Corbett Sundown, chief of the Seneca Nation and a kind of medicine man known as the Keeper of the Faith. He appeared to be in his 70s, Beese writes, short and strong, with white hair beneath a baseball cap. He was to be their guide and over the weekend they had many conversations. But one stood out in Beese's memory. It started with Sundown asking Beese if he knew the difference between Christians and Native Americans. Answering his own question, he explained:

The difference between the Christians and my people is how we pray. The Christians pray to God, 'give me this, give me that.' It is a give-me religion. They are always telling God what they want and how they want it. They are focused on themselves, not on others. They think God is there to give them what they want.

We pray with gratitude. We pray, 'Thank you for the Sun, that warms us and grows the corn. Thank you for the rain and the snow that gives us water and irrigates the beans. Thank you for the earth, that feeds the plants. Thank you for the trees, that give us wood for houses and heat. Thank you for giving us each other.

Sundown's words have stayed with Beese, who thinks of them every Thanksgiving. "On Thanksgiving Day, when we re-create the Harvest Celebration of pilgrims and natives, I think of Corbet Sundown's admonition of recognition and thanks."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 1, 2008 at 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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