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.