The Thanksgiving Address

Greetings and Thanks to All Life That Sustains Us.

Digging In

Digging In: Facilitating Dialogue and Action
Key Themes and Terms
  • Ohé:ton Karihwatéhkwen
  • Thanksgiving Address
  • Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations
  • Kenien’kéha or Mohawk language
  • greetings
  • thankfulness
  • one mind
  • our sustenance
  • four directions
  • grandfathers
  • grandmother
  • elder brother
  • Handsome Lake
  • four beings
  • creator
  • land
  • acknowledgement
Catalyzing Connections

  • Description: What do you see, hear, and feel while watching the video? While listening to the Mohawk version?
  • Personal Connection: How does this story connect to your personal experience or not?
  • Common Themes: What are the social issues that emerge from sharing our personal stories? Are there common issues that are shared among us?
  • Social Analysis: What are the historical and social processes that created this situation?
  • Planning for Action: What can be done? What can I/we do?

  • What was your experience of listening to Ryan recite the Thanksgiving Address in Mohawk, one of the indigenous languages of the Haudenosaunee? What meaning do you gather from it?
  • As the different elements that sustain life were named, which ones were obvious to you? Which ones were a surprise? What elements do you identify with most strongly? Why? Are there elements that you don’t connect with? Why not?

Hands-On Activities

When the Legacies collaborators gathered at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Oshweken, Ontario in July 2019, Chandra engaged the group in making the connections between food and all of the elements acknowledged in the Thanksgiving Address. She distributed the drawings of the different elements that you see in the video and asked us to consider: “How is this one thing related to food?

Using the English translation provided of the Thanksgiving Address, ask each group member to select one of the elements and talk about how they see it connected to food. They could write their thoughts on the back of a drawing. Then ask them to share their interpretation with everyone. Finally, discuss how sharing of perspectives has broadened your understanding of food.

Here are some examples from Legacies participants:

  • Water (Dianne from rural Ontario): “Water is our most important food, we are 90% water, and all creatures rely on water.”
  • Medicinal plants (Angel from Yucatan, Mexico): “We don’t see medicinal plants and food as separate, they’re the same. For the Mayan people, the patios or gardens of the grandmothers were like pharmacies. If you had a stomachache or a fever, you went to a grandmother and she would tell you what plant you need. Then you needed to ask permission of the plant to cut it so it could cure you.”
  • Insects (Leticia from Toronto, Ontario): “Bees, for example, provide us sustenance with food (honey) as well as helping to pollinate the fruits and vegetables.”
  • Moon (Raquel from Costa Rica): “In agriculture, the moon tells us when to plant.”
  • Sun (Adam from rural Quebec): “The sun melts the snow after our long winter and is critical for our short growing season.”
  • Trees (Fulvio from Michoacán, Mexico): “There are many trees that give us edible fruits or nuts or medicine; some trees are also connected to animals or birds that we eat.”
Intergenerational and Intercultural Dialogue

At the start of the video, Chandra offers what is called the “Edge of the Woods” ritual of welcome, offered to outsiders or guests coming to Iroquois territory:

“Imagine that I’m taking a soft piece of doe skin and that I’m wiping the tears from your eyes for any grief you may have accumulated, from any grief that you’re experiencing in your life.

Imagine that I’m taking a soft feather and that I’m wiping any dust out of your ears so you may hear clearly now the words that are going to be spoken now.

Then imagine that I’m giving you a cool drink of water to help clear the lump from your throat from any grief that you may be carrying.”

– Chandra Maracle

How does this prepare you to listen to Mohawk words that you don’t understand and to learn from the world view represented by the Thanksgiving Address? How might this ritual prepare us for any new situation or dialogue?

When Legacies collaborator Fulvio Gioanetto, trained in Europe as a scientist, first learned about the Thanksgiving Address from Chandra, he said:

“I like how it talks about all beings as interconnected. It’s another kind of language; I can say the same thing in scientific language. It’s an honour to know the Mohawks, to listen to the same music but with different rhythms; it’s a tradition that gives you a way to interact with life.”

– Fulvio Gioanetto

How do you think western science and Indigenous knowledge might converge in understanding the interrelationship of all elements of the natural world?

Individual and Collective Action

Do you have any rituals for starting meetings or events that bring people together and acknowledge the interconnections? If not, what might you create that would serve that purpose with your group?

In Canada, since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 recommendations in 2015, many schools and cultural institutions have initiated a ‘land acknowledgement’ ritual – taking time to name the Indigenous groups who have been stewards of the land one is standing on and acknowledging our responsibility as guests to continue to care for the land.

In introducing the Thanksgiving Address to a University of Toronto class in 2019, Chandra said “this is the real land acknowledgement for the Haudenosaunee people.” It goes beyond a rote naming of Indigenous groups to reflecting a world view that both greets and give thanks to all elements of nature, making connections with all our relations.

What Indigenous groups historically were and currently are stewards of the land you are living on? What would be an appropriate way to acknowledge their relationship to the land in the past, present and future?

Consider the question Robin Wall Kimmerer asks in Braiding Sweetgrass (112): What would it be like to be raised on gratitude, to speak to the natural world as a member of the democracy of species, to raise a pledge of interdependence?

Continuing the Conversation

Continuing the Conversation
Molly Anderson

Molly Anderson is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Food Studies at Middlebury College, Vermont. She teaches, writes about and analyzes food insecurity and the right to food, resilience of food systems, food democracy, and pathways to transformation.

Many people in the United States are questioning the value of the brief and nearly obligatory “land acknowledgment” at the beginning of an event or ceremony. For some, it is an empty gesture that changes nothing for the reality of Indigenous people whose land has been stolen, and at most elicits a little twinge of white or settler guilt which, once acknowledged, can be ignored.

The Thanksgiving address is a more meaningful alternative that might help both to remember whose land we stand upon and also the meaning to these people of that land—and all of their relations in the waters, birds, animals, and other living and non-living beings connected with it. Re-thinking and re-membering our interdependence with the natural world is a crucial teaching from Indigenous people for settler people who have lost our way in the world.

By losing our sense of relationship, we have lost the path that Indigenous people followed to be in the world with reverence and respect. And along with that loss of reverence and respect has come the callous ability to treat the living world, on which we depend for our lives, as nothing but a source of wealth to be extracted, a playground, or a waste-dump.

The traditional use and ubiquity of the Thanksgiving address are important to remember as well: this wasn’t comparable to a US Thanksgiving Day prayer before dinner, but an everyday practice of spirituality. Until reverence and respect infuse every day of settler existence, we will remain painfully separated from our relations and threatened with self-inflicted destruction.

Digging Deeper

Digging Deeper: Resources for Further Research and Action
Videos

Land Acknowledgement Poem
by Lena Recollet

Barroness Von Sketch
Land Acknowledgement Skit

Audio

“Can Our Ancestors Hear Us?”
All Our Relations Podcast

Books and Articles
  • ———–“Thanksgiving Address: Giving Thanks to the Natural World” In Kanien’Kéha: An Open Source Endangered Language Initiative. https://kanienkeha.net/blogs/ohenton-karihwatehkwen/, accessed March 2, 2020.
  • “Edge of the Woods ceremony was the basis for the Two-Row Wampum”: Commentary by Doug George-Kanentiio” https://www.syracuse.com/opinion/2013/08/two_row_wampum_edge_of_the_woo.html, accessed March 2, 2020.
  • Susan Hill. The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2017.
  • Robin Wall Kimmerer. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013, 111.
  • Ruth Koleszar-Green. What is a Guest? What is a Settler? Cultural and Pedagogical Inquiry, Vol. 2, No. 10 (2018), 166-177.

Listen to the voices of Mohawk language professor Ryan DeCaire and Mohawk food leader Chandra Maracle as they offer the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen or Thanksgiving Address in both Mohawk and English.

The Haudenosaunee (known as the Iroquois Confederacy in French or as Six Nations in English) begin every gathering by offering greetings and thanks to all the elements of life that sustain us. This ritual brings everyone into the space with a good mind, ready to listen and learn.

Why begin a multimedia platform and a book about food sovereignty with a Mohawk greeting? As Chandra explains “I love to start any meeting with these words of thanksgiving to all the beings in the natural world. It shows that food is a great universalizer, something that we all need as human beings. In the context of talking about things like decolonization, truth and reconciliation, there are so many things that divide us. But food is a very approachable way of bringing us together, it helps us remember the universality of it all. It’s a way to bring people together, not to separate us.”

Watch the Thanksgiving Address video first, focusing on the images while Ryan speaks in the Mohawk language. Then Chandra offers a further explanation in English. Below you can follow the text in Mohawk, followed by an English translation, both illustrated by drawings by Tuscarora artist Rick Hill.

Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen (in Mohawk)

Karihwahnhotónkwen

Tewatatè:ken, né: wáhi thia’tewenhniserá:ke táhnon nó:nen othé:nen iorihowá:nen tewaterihwahtentià:tha, kanonhweratónhsera entitewáhtka’we. Teniethinonhweratónnion tsi naho’tèn:shon rokwatákwen táhnon roweiennentà:’on kèn:thon tsi ionhontsá:te táhnon tsi tkaronhiatátie. Né: nen’ nè:’e tewana’tónhkhwa ne Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

You can add alt text here.

Onkwe’shòn:’a

Akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon teiethinonhwerá:ton ne onkwe’shòn:’a ienákere tsi ionhontsá:te tsi shé:kon rotiio’tátie tsi nahò:ten shakoríhonte ne Shonkwaia’tíson naiá:wen’ne skén:nen aonhtén:ti’ tsi ionhontsá:te. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Iethi’nisténha Onhóntsa

Akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon taiethinonhwerá:ton ne Iethi’nisténha Onhóntsa. Iakorihwató:ken tsi shé:kon taiakohtka’wenhátie ne ako’shatsténhsera. Nè:’e kwi’ thí:ken teionkwatonhontsó:ni ne aetiónhnheke táhnon skén:nen taetewatawén:rie ieronhkwe’nà:ke. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Kahnekahrónnion

Akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon teiethinonhwerá:ton ne kahnekahrónnion tsi shé:kon iotirihwató:ken tsi ionathnekahtentionhátie naiá:wen’ne aionkwania’taná:wen nó:nen ionkwania’táthens táhnon naonsakará:kewe tsi nahò:ten wahétken’s ká:ien onhontsà:ke. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Kéntson’shòn:’a

Ó:nen káti akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon teiethinonhwerá:ton ne nia’tekéntsake awèn:ke tkontì:teron tsi shé:kon iotinoharenionhátie tsi kahnekahrónnion táhnon taionahtka’wenhátie ne aoti’wà:ron naiá:wen’ne tionhnhéhkwen aionkwá:ton’se. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Iothontón:ni

Né: káti akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon taiethinnonhwerá:ton ne iothontón:ni shonkwaienthó:wi. Nia’tekahón:take, nia’tekahtè:rake, táhnon nia’tekakwí:rake kwi’ wáhi tewanahè:sen ne aétewake nó:nen tewatonhkária’ks táhnon aionkhítsen’te nó:nen ionkwanonhwáktani. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Otsi’nonwa’shòn:’a

Ó:nen káti akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon taiethinonhwerá:ton ne otsi’nonwa’shòn:’a. Nia’tekatsi’nón:wake kwi’ shakó’teron onhontsà:ke ne taiotirihwaienawa’kónhake táhnon aiotiianerahstonhátieke ne tsi ionhontsá:te naiá:wen’ne akwé:kon skén:nen aonhtén:ti. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Tionhnhéhkwen

Ó:nen akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon taiethinonhwerá:ton ne tionhnhéhkwen. Nia’té:kon ase’shòn:’a ionkwá:ien kahehtakónhshon tsi nón:we ionkwaienthóhseron. Né: kwi’ ò:ni teiethinonhwerá:ton ne Áhsen Nikontate’kèn:’a – ó:nenhste, onon’ónsera, táhnon osahè:ta. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Kahi’shòn:’a

Né: káti akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon teiethinonhwerá:ton ne wahianiióntha. Nia’tewà:iake ká:ien onhontsà:ke ne aétewake, aetewahnekónnia’te, táhnon taetewá:iehste ne tionhnhéhkwen. Teiethinonhwerá:ton ò:ni ne niiohontésha; nè:’e kwi’ ohén:ton tehshakotáhston ne Shonkwaia’tíson akanèn:rine ne kahihshòn:’a. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Kahrhahrónnion

Akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon teiethinonhwerá:ton ne kahrhahrónnion táhnon karontakwe’ní:io ne tsi ní:kon karontó:ton onhontsà:ke, Wáhta niiohsennò:ten. Shé:kon tewaniahé:sen ne aétewatste aetewatenonhsónnia’te, aetewatatia’tataríha’te nó:nen enwathó:rate, táhnon tionhnhéhkwen aionkwa’:ton’se. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Otsi’ten’okòn:’a

Akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwanikòn:ra táhnon taiethinonhwerá:ton ne otsi’ten’okòn:’a kontinákere tsi ionhontsá:te táhnon ne kwah tkonwatikowá:nen, Á:kweks niiohsennò:ten, tsi shé:kon taiaonatka’wenhátie ne aoti’shatsténhsera. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Kontírio

Akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwanikòn:ra táhnon taiethinonhwerá:ton ne nia’tekariò:take teionatawénrie tsi kahrhahrónnion tsi shé:kon iethí:kens tsi kontitakhenóntie’s kahrhakónhshon táhnon taionatka’wenhátie ne aoti’wà:ron táhnon aotinéhon.  Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Ionkhihsothó:kon Ratiwè:ras

Akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwanikòn:ra táhnon taiethinonhwerá:ton ne Ionkhihsothó:kon Ratiwè:ras tsi shé:kon ratiwennotáties táhnon á:se shonnón:nis tsi kahnekahrónnion tsi ionhontsá:te. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Ionkhihsótha Ahsonthenhnéhkha Karáhkwa

Akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwanikòn:ra táhnon teiethinonhwerá:ton ne Ionkhihsótha Ahsonthenhnéhkha Wenhni’tarátie’s tsi shé:kon tiekonhsarátie’s tsi teionkhihswathe’tén:ni tsi niwahsonté:son’s naiá:wen’ne skén:nen aontén:ti tsi ionhontsá:te. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Ehtshitewahtsì:’a Entiehkehnékha Karáhkwa

Akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwanikòn:ra táhnon tehtshitewanonhwerá:ton ne Ehtshitewahtsì:’a Entiehkehnékha Karáhkwa tsi shé:kon thotenniehtonhátie ne rao’shatsténhsera. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Iotsistohkwarónnion

Ó:nen akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwa’nikòn:ra táhnon teiethinonhwerá:ton ne iotsistohkwarónnion teiotihswathè:ton tsi tkaronhiatátie’s tsi shé:kon ionkhina’tón:nis tsi niiotierá:ton entewatié:ra’te nó:nen ionkwatia’tahtòn:’on. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Shonkwaia’tíson

Ó:nen káti nón:wa eh nón:we ia’tentewawennaníhara’ne ne tsi nón:we thotatenaktarakwén:ni ne Shonkwaia’tíson. Entewehià:rake tsi rohsa’ánion, rokwatákwen táhnon roweiennentà:’on akwé:kon nahò:ten tewaniahè:sen aetiónhnheke. Né: káti akwé:kon énskat entitewahwe’nón:ni nonkwanikòn:ra táhnon tetshitewanonhwerá:ton ne Shonkwaia’tíson. Eh káti naiohtónhake nonkwa’nikòn:ra.

Karihwahnhó:ton

Ó:nen ká:ti eh niió:re wa’katerihwatkwé:ni akewennóhetste’ ne kanonhsweratónhsera. Tóka’ othé:nen sonke’nikóhrhen, í:se kwi’ nen’ nè:’e tsisewaia’tátshon ientsisewatahsónteren tsi entisewahtka’we ne kanonhweratónhsera. Ó:nen nón:wa eh nón:we iahetéwawe ne ioióhe aetewarihwahnhotón:ko táhnon enwá:ton entewaterihwahténtia’te tsi nahò:ten ionkwaterì:wate. É’tho káti nikawén:nake táhnon ó:nen é’tho.

Thanksgiving Address (in English)

Each day, when there is an important matter at hand, we must give thanks. We will give thanks for all he has created and prepared for us here on the earth and in the sky. This is called the matter before all else. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the people on the Earth, that they are still tending to their responsibilities so that peace can be possible on earth. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the earth, that in her kindness she still continues to provide us with her strength, for this is what we need to continue to live peacefully upon her body. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the water, that we still have waters to cool our bodies, quench our thirst, and wash away pollutants in the earth. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the many kinds of fish that live in the water, that they still clean the waters, and that we are able to use their meat to sustain us. So let it be in our minds

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the many kinds of plants growing on the planet: the grasses, roots, and shrubbery, that we depend on when we are in hunger, and that heal us when we are ill. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the many kinds of insects. He has created many different types of insects on the earth. They are connected to the beautification of the earth, so that things may come along peacefully. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the many kinds of sustainers, to the many kinds of fresh foods that grow in the gardens we plant. We also give thanks to the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the many kinds of berries (hanging fruits) of the earth in which we eat, that we use to make juice, and that we use to sustain ourselves. We also give thanks to the strawberry, who was chosen by the creator to be the leader of the berries/fruit. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the many forests, and the leader of the trees, the maple. That we are still able to use it to make our homes, to keep us warm when it is cold, and that we are still able to use it to sustain ourselves. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the many kinds of birds on the earth, and the leader, the eagle. That we are still provided with their strength. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the many kinds of animals that wander the forests. That we still see them running about the forests, that they are still us with their skin, and their meat to sustain ourselves. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the four winds: north, south, east and west. That they are still working together so that we can breathe. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to our grandmother the moon, that her face still illuminates the night, making sure that it will be peaceful here on earth. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to our elder brother sun, that he is still providing us with his strength. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the stars that shine in the sky, that they still show us the way we should go when we are lost. So let it be in our minds.

We bring our minds together as one and give thanks to the creator. We remember that he is the one that created and prepared everything we depend on to live. This is why we bring our minds together to thank him. So let it be in our minds.

Now I have put the words of thanksgiving through.

If I have forgotten anything, it falls to each of you here to continue to complete it. Now it is time for us to open up the matter, and start the matter at hand.