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The First Thanksgiving" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930). It was not the first fall harvest feast for Native Americans, however, who have celebrated since their first teachings.

The First Thanksgiving: There’s always room for one more

By Christi Ortiz

I’m not sure what really happened on that first Thanksgiving.  History and stories tend to morph over time or become distorted based on who’s telling the story.  I’m told that illegal aliens came in a horde across the ocean to settle on this land.  They came hungry and weary from the journey, low on supplies, some sick, some homesick, some seasick, but all were looking for a new life, new opportunity, away from the tyranny of their old land.  They were seeking freedom, seeking safety, seeking opportunity.  Many must have been afraid, for most it was the longest most arduous voyage they had ever taken especially without certainty that they would reach their destination or whether they would be welcomed when they arrived at the border between the sea and dry land.  But they did arrive, and whether they were desired or welcomed or not, they were here on this land.

I don’t know whether the citizens of this land were glad to see an arrival of hungry, disoriented, ill-equipped foreigners or if they were afraid or angry that they were intruding upon their territory…But regardless of how they felt, or their first reactions, history tells us that they were welcomed.  That the citizens of this land offered a helping hand, teaching them the ways of the fish and fowl on these new shores that they knew so well. They shared the knowledge, that was passed down to them for generations upon generations, with these uninvited guests and weary travelers.  They were given sacred seeds of native corn, a gift that would serve as gold to them in future years saving them from death and starvation during sparse times ahead that would follow.  We are told that the generosity and hospitality of the citizens continued when the foreigners stumbled upon difficult times.  The Wampanoag leader Massasoit noticed their risk of starvation and their need and gave them food during the first winter when the supplies they brought from home were insufficient.

This horde of new arrivals was a burden to the native people.  They were ill-equipped and ill supplied to survive and supply their needs here in this foreign territory.  They needed a bit of help up to survive, and it was provided to them and they thanked God and they thanked their hosts who so graciously and generously provided for them.  They even invited them to a feast! A feast where 90 of the native citizens invited 53 of the foreigners to join them in a meal.  A meal that they each contributed to, but mostly the citizens footed the bill by killing the dear and teaching the foreigners the way of hunting fowl and catching fish in this new land.  They saw the need of this new people fleeing their homeland for a better life and they responded with kindness.  This is what we celebrate today.

God invited a new horde of pilgrims that are at our very door just as there were so many years ago on our shore.  But this time there are more, luckily we too have much more food to share.  (In fact, we have so much we often unbutton our pants after eating and then go on diets because we have so much food it’s killing us!) So there is plenty to share and we are so grateful that this new opportunity might save us from a new year of resolutions and trip to the gym in the coming months.  In fact, maybe these travelers are an answer to our prayers.

We’ve been praying for gratitude, for greater contentment and security, for greater health.  When I look at them they have so much to teach us about gratitude, simplicity, sacrifice, community, faith, and compassion.  Perhaps if we share some of our food and invite them to our tables just as travelers were invited to this land so long ago, perhaps they will give us gifts we didn’t even know we needed, or help to heal our wounds that we cannot seem to heal.  You see we have abundance and technology and a beautiful form of government called democracy and all these wonderful gifts but we have these other ailments we can’t seem to fix.  Some of our leading causes of death, we can’t seem to survive.  We go too fast, car crashes are a large ailment we are still trying to solve. We’re mean to one another and don’t notice or care about each other’s pain, we hack in where we are not invited, we steal we lie, we cheat.  We create things we can’t control and then end up doing us harm.  We shoot each other with guns, another ailment we are still trying to figure out.  We are plagued by depression and anxiety and chronic pain and we are killing ourselves either on purpose or by accident.  We’re eating food that’s killing us (I know that sounds crazy that we don’t die of starvation anymore but we actually make and eat food that poisons our bodies). We’ve lost our sense of community and no longer want to care for our sick or dying or welcome newcomers into our mix either as babies or travelers.  We imprison each other in bars of steel and we have this inequality where some have a lot and some have very little.  Some are punished severely for life while others even commit larger more harmful or expensive crimes but they go free and wear suits and talk to ‘united nations’ and have fame, while others are forgotten, their pain silent, and they are branded for life as criminals no longer able then to catch their own food to provide for their family.  We have lost our sense of tribal identity, forgetting that we belong to one another.  We still try to find it in these games we play with balls and dressing alike or using symbols to bind us together, but really we’re still fighting and alone.

We want that sense of community so much we spend huge portions of our wealth on these games even though some in our community don’t have enough for glasses or a pair of gloves this winter.  We’ve tried to fix these things, but we haven’t figured it out yet.  Yes, I am almost hesitant to welcome you to our new land because we have so much brokenness and I fear we will not care for you well, but perhaps you bring gifts not on a boat or in a backpack but in your heart and in your story that perhaps is just what we need at our table.  Perhaps your coming gives us what we need to pull out the best of ourselves and make America great again.

So I hope and I pray we welcome you as so many were originally welcomed.  But I am told some have lost their manners over the few years and forgot how to welcome a stranger to a new land, forgot our call to hospitality and our requirement to lend a hand to a neighbor in need.  So I hope they’ll remember.  Perhaps part of them fears history repeating itself.  You see the other part of the story I didn’t tell you is that those foreigners invaded the new land.  They killed the native habitants, they destroyed their way of life, they trampled upon their generations of culture and knowledge that those early welcomes so graciously shared with them, they raped and destroyed their resources and means for life.  They disrespected their holy ground and burial grounds and traditions and rituals by demolishing their environment and way of life making it impossible for the native citizens to survive or practice their ancient ways of being and ways of living.  These new arrivals didn’t have their same wholistic respect for life or espouse their same values, their ways were foreign and disingenuous.  They lied and cheated and killed.  Those new arrivals were murders and thieves and raped the land and the people of who they were and their way of life.  So perhaps those with the power to welcome these new arrivals fear the same fate.  They know what their people did and fear this new people will do the same to them.  They fear their God may inflict justice for the iniquities of their ancestors.

But those ungrateful newcomers also brought gifts and they have continued to bring gifts over the years as we have welcomed them whether Jew or German or Irish or European or Asian or Middle Eastern, or African (well many of those were actually brought by force, but still they brought so many gifts. In fact much of the wealth upon which we harvest was planted and built by their hard labor and sacrifice).  Their have been so many that brought us gifts like Hollywood, democracy, mathematics, science, technology.  The list goes on and on.  So many religious leaders and teachers from all those nations that have taught us so much and enriched our lives.  Other leaders in thought or business like Einstein, Steve Jobs, Trump, to name just a few of the many.  All these immigrants brought value with their coming.  Sure they’re not perfect, each has all brought tremendous harm and potential for great danger and destruction, but we tend to welcome the good with the bad.  So don’t fear that you are not perfect, goodness usually wins out in the end.

I see all that fear as superstition.  You see there are much more protections and boundaries in place now.  It’s a different world.  And I believe we don’t need a wall, we need a gate.  We can welcome while still protecting and setting boundaries and holding accountable to prevent the massacre of our people upon these grounds that have already seen such horrendous massacre of the original people and animals and plants and resources that originally inhabited this land.

And although we may be afraid, we are a people who have never let our fear get the best of our faith.  We believe in freedom and abundance and hope and possibility so much that we light a torch and put it high on a statue and write a poem to accompany her feet as she stands their welcoming lost, weary travels as a beacon that hope is possible.

And so you pilgrims arriving at our borders, you have arrived just in time as we celebrate this feast of abundance and gratitude and honoring tradition.  And so may we honor the tradition of those who hosted the first Thanksgiving feast, because the reality is there is usually always room for one more at the table and still enough food to go around.

I found out many years after I was born in Colorado, that the ground upon which I was born was named by the original ‘owners’, the Mexicans.  They gave it the Spanish name ‘color dorado’ for its golden mountains and golden trees.  I’m told that the new ‘owners’ actually stole and cheated and took advantage of a corrupt leader.  They ‘obtained’ the land by using alcohol and bribery and gunpoint to eventually gain signed papers and a ‘legal’ ‘right’ to occupy the land that wasn’t theirs.  (It’s funny because now we call it illegal when those original owners don’t have papers and signed documents from us. I know it sounds crazy, you can’t make this stuff up, but it’s happening right now!). But they’re not as good as cheating and lying and bribery as us, they’re just showing up honestly and openly and upfront asking us to let them in and provide them an opportunity to work and make a life.  I wonder if we’ll remember who we really are, where we have come from, in order to help make a more just and peaceful and hospital home.  I pray we do or I fear the fate of this pale blue dot we call earth, fragile, suspended in motion in the middle of the ocean of the cosmos.  What if someday we have to leave our home and voyage out to uncharted territory, will we be welcomed as lost weary travelers to a hospitable home, or forced to turn back to barrenness and violence and the aftermath of our own destruction?

This day I choose to hope.  I choose to be grateful.  I pray we won’t be turkeys or too chicken to do the right thing.  I pray we will join hands and feast, both native and pilgrim, in peace and prosperity and hope for a brighter future for the generations that will follow us.  For they will one day read about our story in history books.  I hope they read a good story. It’s up to us to do our part to write it well.

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About Christi Ortiz

Christi Ortiz is a licensed marriage and family therapist by profession and a poet by passion.  She enjoys trying to put to words to that which is wordless and give voice to the dynamic and wild spiritual journey called life. She lives in Spokane with her husband and two children, Emmanuel and Grace. She loves the outdoors and meditating in the early mornings which gives rise to her poetry.

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