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Thanksgiving season reminds us of Native American wisdom

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Thanksgiving, for many people, is not a single day but a season, a remembrance of heritage, a way of life.

As we recall our American heritage, we think of how Native Americans were present at what we call the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621. Some say that more Native Americans were present at the three-day feast than were the Pilgrims. No matter what was true about the numbers, the wisdom of those helpful neighbors must have been felt by the colonists after their first harvest.

Native American wisdom should be cherished and made a part of this year’s Thanksgiving celebrations and others throughout the year. A sampling of ideas and beliefs from Native American heritage might give this season meaning and depth, and it could change our thinking about things that matter.

We harvest this wisdom from the Dakota heritage: “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.”

Do we really think about what our tracks say about us? Maybe we should give this idea more thought.

The Minquas Indians believed this: “If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” Hold on to that thought.

From the Obijwe we learn this: “Whether we have wings or fins or roots or paws...we are all relatives,” and along those same lines, the Duwamish from western Washington taught us this: “All plants are our brothers and sisters.”

Touching Spirit Bear warned us about our treatment of animals. He said, “Whatever you do to animals, you do to yourself.”

And the Nez Perce believed, “Every animal knows more than you do,” a sobering thought.

The Sioux left this message in their Native American prayer: “Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.” Nature is a great teacher.

Have you ever heard this gem from the Cheyenne? “Walk lightly in the spring. Mother Earth is pregnant.”

What about this one from the Lakota? “When a man moves away from nature, his heart is hard.” Do we want to be known to have hard hearts?

Black Elk had a message about how humans should be with this thought-provoking simile: “Like the grasses slowly turn their faces to each other, thus should we be.”

As we give thanks for the bounty from the land this season, let us ponder this idea from the Arapaho: “Take only what you need, and leave the land as you found it.”

Patricia Briggs reminds us of the wisdom of age in “Hunting Ground”: “His grandfather often told him that he tried too hard to move trees when a wiser man would walk around them.”

In the event that people and animals overestimate their importance, the Southwest Indians teach us this: “The moon is not shaped by the barking of dogs.”

The Pima give us this warning: “Do not hate your neighbor, for it is not he that you wrong but yourself.”

Finally, the ancient Anasazi people taught us this profound idea: “The most beautiful thing in the world is a heart that is changing.”

Thanksgiving is already here, and it does not come and go on one day. Let us embrace the wisdom of Native American cultures as it continually permeates our lives.

And on Nov. 28, when we gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, let us give thanks for all blessings, including bountiful wisdom that we have inherited from Native American cultures.

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life. Email her at