Updated: Nov 18, 2020
The Thanksgiving Address is a signature activity at ʻAkahiao. The practice was handed down from John Stokes at the Tracking Project, who was tasked with the deed of spreading these words around the world by a Mohawk chief.
This beautiful practice was created over 1000 years ago and practiced by the Iroquois Nation in North America. The Iroquois name, Ohenton Kariwahtekwen, means 'The Words Before All Else'. According to their chief Tommy Porter, the Mohawk tribesmen would recite these words every morning, and definitely before having tribal meetings. Sometimes the address can take days, because some chiefs want to name every single component in nature that helped keep us alive.
We begin every morning of every program with the Thanksgiving Address. The group gathers in a circle, holding hands, and follows the lead of the orator who will begin to thank everything in nature, starting from the people, the mother earth, the water, the creatures in the water, the grasses and the bugs, the flowering plants, the food plants, the medicinal plants, the animals, the trees, the birds, the winds, the thunderers, the sun, the moon, the stars, the spiritual guardians of the four corners, our enlightened teachers and all the way up to the creator. With each thanks, the orator will say 'now our minds are one' and everyone in the circle agrees out loud.
There are so many reasons why we believe this is a crucial practice that can change the world for better.
1 - Brings the community into one place, one mind.
I learned when studying about communities that what brings a community together is a common language. Once a common language is established, the members are able to freely communicate and express themselves. This practice sets the language of our community high in the realm of gratitude, allowing our members to be in the right mind as a group. By standing in a circle and including everyone, this is a sure way to maintain a strong bond.
2 - Way of communicating with the natural world.
The first time I ever heard it, something in my head absolutely clicked. I recalled all the little moments when I would sit and look up through the leaves of trees rustling in the wind, or feeling the soft touch of the tall grasses in my hand as I walked in my neighborhood park. I never linked them together until when I heard the words of gratitude to the natural world. That is exactly what I was doing, and it was a way for me to communicate with the trees. The Thanksgiving Address is a language for us to communicate with nature, and it is a beautiful one to put into your daily practice.
3 - Literally changing your brain.
Your bran is an amazingly complex, ever-changing organ. As you create thoughts and memories, neurons are formed and reinforced to allow you to remember. There is a physical change that occurs -- pathways in your brain are myelinated (coated in a chemical that facilitates the transmission of signals in the brain) that allows for a quicker connection between two areas of the brain. When you practice giving thanks on a daily basis, the neurons build a stronger coat that will allow the signals to pass through from the object to feeling of gratitude, thus literally building your attitude of gratitude.
4 - Freedom within Structure.
Having been in many thanksgiving circles, not once have I heard the same exact words. This practice of giving thanks changes as our own lives change, and are as diverse as our own personality. There is a simple structure to follow, an order where you start from the ground up, but within that structure the words are free. Someone pay pay a special thanks to the whales, another may pay homage to the turtle. It is a beautiful showcase of our individual relationships to the natural world.
To purchase the Thanksgiving Address booklet, click here.