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What has happened to us since that first Thanksgiving?

A view at Standing Rock.

A view at Standing Rock.

Both Pilgrims and Indians figured into my youthful vision of that first Thanksgiving in the New World. Even though I now know them as Native Americans and understand that America was a not new world for them, I have always held out hope that peoples of every tribe and nation could come together at table in peace. If we did it once …

That hope has been shaken, however, by the events related to the construction of the North Dakota Access pipeline, and I find myself wondering what to do.

I was led to this reflection after our Sister Joni Luna shared her journey to stand with the Native Americans peacefully protesting at the construction site. Joni was prompted to do this when she discovered that she is 45 percent Native American. Most of her life, she considered herself Hispanic.

Joni learned that the construction of the pipeline disrupts the only water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Indians. There is imminent fear of drinking water contamination.

But by going to North Dakota, Joni also realized the sad truth: That this is not just an environmental crisis. Bulldozers have already destroyed sacred grounds. The representatives of more than 60 various tribes, who call themselves water protectors, not protestors, have been threatened or harmed by use of billy clubs, rubber bullets and tear gas and/or arrested by armed riot police guarding ongoing pipeline construction.

This, of course, comes after a lifetime of broken treaties and invocations of the right of eminent domain that has snatched more land from this and other tribes. Interestingly enough, the pipeline was scheduled to pass through Bismarck, North Dakota. The protests of those landowners were heeded and the pipeline rerouted.

What has happened to us since that first Thanksgiving when the colonists and the Native Americans not only shared a meal, they shared life? And what can I do about it anyway?

sister-dawn-reflection-pic2It helped me to return to the original story to remind myself that right relationship is possible. The eyewitness accounts referenced in Wikipedia and connected with the 1621 “Thanksgiving” celebration at the Plymouth Plantation were the most helpful. This is the event to which our current Thanksgiving holiday is commonly traced. The settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season as was their religious practice. They took time to give thanks for God’s bountiful providence. The celebration included 50 percent who were on the Mayflower (all who remained of the 100 who had landed) and 90 Native Americans from among the Wampanoag tribe.

The Native Americans were included and celebrated as instruments of God’s Providence.

The Wampanoag leader, Massasoit, had given food to the colonists during the first winter, when supplies brought from England were insufficient. Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn, and served as an interpreter for them. Squanto had learned the English language during his enslavement in England.

Sister Joni has found a way to honor her people, by standing with them. She told me that Thanksgiving will never again be the same for her. Ethnically, I am not a Native American, but as a Sister of Providence, I believe that these are my people, too. Actually, as a citizen of this world, I should reverence them as my people, too.

Is the Thanksgiving table of my heart large enough to make room for whoever comes to my door or into my consciousness? Make it so, O God, make it so. Then help the rest of me put into action what my heart knows: We are all one.

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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