As I write this, we have just finished our Thanksgiving dinner celebration and our attention is now turning to the traditional Holiday season. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American celebration, starting with the Native American tribes saving a starving colony of European immigrants. It has evolved into a time when we give thanks for the abundance of foods that we are able to bring to our table, and to celebrate many relationships with family and friends.
I find it particularly interesting that, having just finished the month of November, which is National Native American Heritage Month, we sometimes lose sight of the kind acts of generosity and caring that saved the lives of those immigrants. Most of the Native American cultures were built around peace, kindness to others, and gentle coexistence with Mother Earth, and somehow became transformed into images of wild savages with tomahawks scalping helpless farmers. Unfortunately, much of that image was derived from Native American resistance to incursions into their lands, broken treaties, and active resettlement of Native American tribes to less desirable lands. If nothing else, Thanksgiving should help remind us all of the Native Americans who are still among us and the rich heritage that each of their cultures brings to our shared land.
The melding of the harvest celebrations, winter solstice celebrations, and multiple religious celebrations all help form a vibrant, exciting month of December. It is one that has admittedly become more oriented to commercial aspects over the past century, but one that still has the underlying elements of being good to one another and giving a hand up to those in need.
This past 18 months has been horrific for all of us because of the pandemic and consequences to health, family, relationships, and almost every other imaginable aspect of our lives. The impact has been particularly hard on those who are living every day with minimal health care, fragile health conditions, little or no access to things we take for granted like clean water and adequate heat and safety. Living on the reservation has never been compared to resort living, as many of the dwellings constructed by the government are substandard when newly built. In many smaller reservation communities, medical clinics and shopping for groceries involve long trips, often beyond the capabilities of the elderly or fragile.
December tends to be the time when many Americans reach into their pockets and share some of their good fortune with those who are in lesser circumstances. Many charities, both large and small, depend on the generosity and kind hearts of those with ample resources. Each of us, in our own way, has the ability to make a difference – whether it be taking a box of canned goods to a local food pantry, or helping serve at a food kitchen for a few hours, or donating money or other goods to charities that can redistribute them to those with grave needs.
Last year, right before Christmas, I was approached by an artist who I have known for many years, and was asked to help with clothing, toiletries, and similar items for a pueblo senior center. This small group of seniors had almost nothing, and they were so grateful for the small contributions that we were able to make. This year, SWAIA is conducting a toy drive for Native American children who might otherwise not get a Christmas present. The Navajo-oriented organization Adopt a Native Elder (anelder.org) has an annual rug sale (in person in Salt Lake City and also online) plus two food, medicine, clothing, and firewood runs to remotely located Navajo elders throughout the Navajo Nation. And there are many, many other similar organizations and efforts that we can support to help our fellow Americans and, to a very small degree, return the favor of that first Thanksgiving when a small Native American tribe generously gave of their foods to help keep a European colony of immigrants from starving.
December is a time of many celebrations, when people of all walks of life take stock of their good fortunes and turn to help those in need. Everyone giving a small bit goes a very long way in terms of making someone else’s life happier. And it feels good inside our hearts to give and to help others. We sleep better at night knowing that we did a good deed. That we did the right thing. That deep inside each of us, there rests the capability of greatness. That in our darkest hours, in the months of this devastating pandemic, we can come together to help each other.