Where We Stand
When I was in college at SUNY-ESF, we began every event with “Where We Stand”: an indigenous land acknowledgement, where we formally recognized the Haudenosaunee people whose land we stand on.
I recently attended the virtual North American Association for Environmental Education Conference, and indigenous land acknowledgements were emphasized there too; I’m happy to see how much the concept is catching on. There was even a land acknowledgement at the beginning of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade this year, which takes place on Lenape territory of Manhatta [sic], and that was a pleasant surprise.
If you want to build a stronger connection to nature, your sense of place, and the land of you live on, it’s vital to know where you stand and the history of the people who live there.
And so, I want my blog to begin the same way. Before I post anything else, I want to take this time to recognize that I am writing from the ancestral homeland of the Haudenosaunee People, specifically the Onondaga Nation.
If you are from Upstate New York, you might be familiar with the story of the foundation of the Haudenosaunee League of Five Nations. (Also known as the Iroquois Confederacy; “Haudenosaunee” means people of the longhouse, while “Iroquois” is the name given to them by the French). The short version of the story goes like this: a long time ago, the five nations were stuck in a violent cycle of war and revenge. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker brought all the nations together with the message of the Great Law of Peace. They buried their weapons of war beneath the great White Pine tree. (This is where the saying “bury the hatchet” comes from). White Pine has five needles per bundle, just like the five nations in the Confederacy.
I learned this story in 4th grade when my class studied the “Iroqouis”. I also grew up visiting Onondaga Lake, which is not far from where I live. But it wasn’t until I was in college that I learned that this origin story took place AT Onondaga Lake.
Growing up, I learned the story of how Onondaga Lake became polluted, and the work that’s being done to restore it. I even volunteered to teach younger students about the lake. I thought I knew everything important about it.
But I didn’t know that the lake is sacred to the Onondaga people. I didn’t know its connection to this story of the formation of the oldest participatory democracy in the world. I didn’t know that the Great Tree of Peace is thought to have been on the shores of Onondaga Lake, probably near the spot where the mall parking lot is now, on the site of an old Onondaga village.
When we learn about our local environments, our homes, these are the kind of stories that should not get left out. It still boggles my mind to think that I went so long without knowing the significance of Onondaga Lake.
As a naturalist, writer, and environmental educator, I intend to do my best not to make the same mistake.
The Thanksgiving Address: The Words that Come Before All Else
The Haudenosaunee also start every meeting, gathering, and day of school with the Thanksgiving Address: The Words that Come Before All Else.
This is a recitation giving thanks for all parts of creation. The exact wording depends on the person. As Onondaga Clan Mother Frieda Jacques says in this video, it’s not a prayer, but a secular expression of gratitude. It’s also a taxonomy; it lists many of the major groups of organisms and aspects of the natural world.
As I welcome you all to my website, I hope that this will become a gathering place where we can come together as a community to learn about nature and help each other grow as people at the same time.
I want to start this journey by taking a moment to express my gratitude for all the beings, creatures, and aspects of nature that we love and depend on. Ecology is a study of relationships. We all need each other in order to survive and thrive. Beyond that, I am so grateful to live in a world populated by millions of other types of creatures and millions of ways of knowing, both human and nonhuman; creatures we can learn about and “discover” and that fill our lives with wonder and joy.
As you read, I invite you to pause for a second on each member of the list. Observe what images pop into your head, or what emotions you feel. Think about your relationship to each aspect of nature, your connection to it, and how you rely on each other.
After each segment of the Thanksgiving Address, the words “And now our minds are one,” are repeated. Imagine what our society might be like if we learned from the Haudenosaunee and began every gathering by affirming our gratitude for the natural world, our commonality, and our interdependence.
We give thanks for:
The Earth Mother
The Food Plants
The Medicine Herbs
The Four Winds
All the gifts of creation
Now our minds are one.
~~Comment and let me know: Who are the indigenous people of the land you live on? (If you don’t know, that’s ok, you can find out!). What in nature are you grateful for?
To learn more:
Native lands app -- enter your location, and this site will tell you which indigenous lands you are on
Video from the Ska Nonh Great Law of Peace Center about the significance of the Thanksgiving Address
Expanded version of The Thanksgiving Address
Thanksgiving Address: Haudenosaunee Greetings to the Natural World
How the Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped US Democracy
Ska Nonh Great Law of Peace Center
Onondaga nation: People of the Hills
Onondaga Nation’s Vision for a Clean Onondaga Lake
NOON: Neighbors of Onondaga Nation