Fri, Apr

Celebrating American Heroes (Unsung) On Thanksgiving


ACCORDING TO LIZ - Today, to celebrate Thanksgiving, I am going to serve you up a smorgasbord from some lesser-known American heroes who deserve more recognition.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a Native American botanist, author, professor of environmental and forest biology. She is also a mother and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In her inspirational book, Braiding Sweetgrass, she talks of the teachings of “One Bowl and One Spoon” – that “the gifts of the earth are all in one bowl, all to be shared from a single spoon.”

This is the vision of the economy of the commons, where resources necessary for human well-being, such as water and land and forests, are shared in common by all, not commodified.

Properly managed, the commons approach maintains abundance, not scarcity. There are contemporary economic alternatives from people ranging from Wendell Berry to Vandana Shiva who reflect the Native American world view in which the earth exists not as private property, a bank from which wealthy landowners can take their fill while the poor get nothing.

The earth exists to be shared,  as a commons, to be tended with respect and reciprocity for the benefit of all.

“Gratitude for all the earth has given us lends us courage to refuse to participate in an economy that destroys the beloved earth to line the pockets of the greedy, to demand an economy that is aligned with life, not stacked against it.

“It is not just changes in policies that we need, but also changes to the heart. Scarcity and plenty are as much qualities of the mind and spirit as they are of the economy. Gratitude plants the seed for abundance.”

Later on she talks more about practicing gratitude, and encourages us to understand that the badgering of marketers are but the stomach grumblings of the monster of overconsumption.

She celebrates cultures of regenerative reciprocity, where wealth is understood to be having enough to share, and riches are counted in mutually beneficial relationships. Besides, it makes us happy.

Now that is Thanksgiving.

Anthropologist Marshall Sahlins reiterates the view that, "modem capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity. Inadequacy of economic means is the first principle of the world's wealthiest peoples."

Shortages are designed to create desire by many and profit for a few by hijacking the flow of supply and demand.

Our vaunted market system deliberately creates scarcity by blocking the flow between the source of material and the consumer. “Grain may rot in the warehouse while hungry people starve because they cannot pay for it. The result is famine for some and diseases of excess for others.”

So when we give thanks for abundance we need also pray that those who hold too much hostage will overcome their personal demons and share with the rest of us.

Institutionalized farming modifies the land for the convenience of mechanization and profit, benefiting a few huge corporations and not the consumer stuck with GMO foods with almost all the nutrition removed in the name of expediency and marketability. Indigenous agriculture modifies the plants to the land and produces a pleasing variety of healthy and tasty foods to share with family and friends.

A number of Native American cultures embrace responsibility. If our purpose is to work for our grandchildren, a Bill of Responsibilities would be more important than a Bill of Rights, and a Pledge of Interdependence outweigh a Pledge of Allegiance.

Kimmerer also talks about accepting gifts with respect and using them honorably, of an Honorable Harvest wherein people take only what they need, be it from the land, from others or from the serving dish. A healthy lifestyle is one that avoids excess, where one uses everything one takes, and leave the rest for others.

In the true circle of life; take what is given, use it well, be grateful, and reciprocate. Reciprocity is golden. The gifting economy is rich.

When everything is shared like the parable of Jesus and the fish, enough is available and there is no need for greed.

In giving to others we gain an intrinsic value; the work of being a human is finding balance.

Charles Eisenstein, an American author whose work embraces themes from economics to ecology, from the history of human civilization to how myth and narrative influence culture, is a proponent of permaculture, anti-consumerism and interdependence. He calls for demilitarizing society and a return to regenerative agriculture, the urgent need to protect bodies of water and forests, to focus on ecological healing rather than development, and to promote economic localization.

All developing a sense of community and empathy, and a world in which to give thanks.

The work of Wendell Berry, American novelist, essayist, environmental activist, and humble farmer, is infused with a commitment to the land, the need to fundamentally alter the economic approach of the western world.

He understands that people are moved by their values and feelings more than by rational arguments, that we need to be open-minded and tolerant, respect those who may not agree with us, not demonize them.

Berry emphasizes the importance of beauty, of working holistically, and for the common good.

All phenomena for which to give thanks.

Native Americans brought Europeans the gifts of plant medicines, oral contraceptives, and anesthetics, kayaks and canoes, rubber and sunglasses.

They also introduced us to turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, cranberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and wild rice, all ingredients of present-day Thanksgiving feasts.

Sean Sherman, an Oglala-Sioux chef and author, promotes a decolonized dining experience through locavorism and the transformational potential of indigenous food practices to restore health to people and planet. Using the profound relationship between humans and food as the basis for our shared human experiences and rights.

Democracy as enshrined in the United States and spread around the world was based on the practices of the Iroquois confederacy.

Western colonization has tended to disregard indigenous customs and cultures, ones that value diversity and a harmonious relationship with the land in favor of raping Mother Earth and casting aside the wisdom of its original protectors. A practice that may have served the get-rich-quick approach of capitalism well, but has beggared the futures for too many.

Private land ownership was foreign to the original inhabitants of America; the concept that an owner class could have the right or be able to purchase permits to destroy a river or poison a land is an anathema to harmonious living.

The love of money is truly the root of all evil and it is the fear of losing things impedes us from enjoying life as it is. Marketing, which has become a hallmark of the holiday season that stretches from Thanksgiving through Hannukah, the winter solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa and ends after the New Years sales, exists to prey on this fear.

The primary purpose of the capitalist society has become encouraging people to fill up the emptiness in their lives with things and excess. Placing an emphasis on exclusiveness, wedging wider the divisiveness that is harming our lives.

Wouldn’t it be more appealing to embrace inclusiveness and caring, living in harmony with our neighbors and cherishing the earth for the good of all mankind?

We must learn from the past, make plans for tomorrow, and celebrate the opportunity to do so.

Goodness is a gift to be given and spread. Our dinners this Thanksgiving should be more than just food. The dinner we share, even if it’s only with a pet or a good book, a favorite TV show or an album of memories, has meaning and value. It’s an opportunity to appreciate the world around us in all its glorious guises.

These values can be applied not only during Thanksgiv­ing but every day of our lives, and would drastically change the way we all live on this planet.

And we need not one day of thanksgiving, but many. The opportunity every day of our lives to appreciate loving each other, and healing our bod­ies, minds and emotions using foods cultivated with respect for Mother Nature.

We must move forward with a clear purpose of investing, not in the stock market but with a holistic commitment to generating abundance, renewing our planet’s fresh water and fertile soils, expanding medical care to all, and ensuring a unity of purpose and an emphasis on the public good.

Give me a sun to welcome the day, fertile soil in which to sink my feet, the sweep of a soft spring rain, the colors of autumn leaves, a fragrant breeze at dusk, the shimmer of moonlight, the laughter of friends, the joy of sharing...

As Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver shares in “Loneliness” –

Oh, mother earth,

Your comfort is great, your arms never withhold.

It has saved my life to know this.

Your rivers flowing, your roses opening in the morning.

Oh, motions of tenderness!


Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.


(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)