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Cherokees and “Thanksgiving”

thanksgiving1885-Lisa Christiansen

Cherokees and “Thanksgiving” Cherokees Didn’t Celebrate “American-style Thanksgiving” until 1885. . . The Cherokees were raising corn as early as 1,000 BC. Before European contact the Cherokees were already participating in a thanksgiving ceremony; the most important ceremony of the year, called the “Green Corn Ceremony.” This traditional dance and festival was a very important event for the Cherokees. It was the beginning of the New Year; a time when our ancestors gave thanks for the corn crop that they saw as a continued life for them. It was a time for forgiveness and for grudges to be left behind – a time to begin anew. A part of their celebration was fasting, then gathering at the ceremonial grounds to play stickball, dance and have a big feast. As settlers and traders moved inland, many Native Americans – including the Cherokee – assisted them with food and supplies. This was a continual process, not just a single meal. The Cherokees taught early settlers how to hunt, fish and farm in their new environment. They also taught them how to use herbal medicines when they became ill. Sadly, as more people came to America, they didn’t seem to need the Native Americans help anymore. Settlers forgot how the natives helped the earlier Pilgrims. Mistrust began to grow; friendships weakened. Settlers and Pilgrims started telling their native neighbors their religious beliefs and native customs were “wrong”. Relationships deteriorated and within a few years the children of the people who ate together at that first Thanksgiving were killing one another in what led to “King Phillip’s War”. Frenchman Christian Priber established himself among the Cherokees in 1736, learning their language, and teaching them “European Christianity” until he was arrested by the English and imprisoned at Charleston, South Carolina. Even though the Cherokees continued worshipping in their traditional ways, the work of the missionaries did convert some Cherokees to Christianity resulting in practicing Christianity synergistically with the cultural belief in tact. The first known Cherokee conversion occurred in 1773. In 1801, the first permanent Christian Mission in the Cherokee Nation was called Moravian Mission. It was located at Springplace, which is in present-day Georgia. As more Cherokees became Christians the custom of observing the English National Thanksgiving Holiday became common. D. W. Bushyhead, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, signed a proclamation on Thursday, November 26, 1885, declaring that Thanksgiving should be practiced by the Cherokees. The proclamation read in part: “The Cherokees have abundant reason to rejoice. They are favored in all things that should make a Nation prosperous and a people happy. They have an indisputable right to an area of land sufficient for the needs of generations of Cherokees to come. They have a perfect form of Government, wise laws, unsurpassed educational facilities for their children and money enough of their own invested to make these blessings permanent. It is true this Nation is neither numerous, wealthy nor powerful compared with many others, but it stands and relies upon the plighted faith of a Nation that has become the strongest on earth by reason of its respect for human rights.” Today most Cherokees celebrate the National Thanksgiving Holiday. There are a few Cherokees, along with Native Americans of other tribes, who still celebrate the Green Corn Ceremony in July and the National Thanksgiving Holiday in November. *Note: Cultural information varies from clan to clan, location to location, family to family, and from differing opinions and experiences.


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