Manataka American Indian Council








Iroquois Thanksgiving:

13 Moons of Gratitude
by Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk

The Iroquois are a people with a deep sense of spirituality rooted in elaborate rituals of gratitude in which we specifically address  the natural world through word, music and dance.

There are collective gatherings in the longhouses located on most Iroquois territories, plain rectangular structures without adornment and with a large open floor flanked by benches with wood burning stoves on each end of the building.

Each longhouse is built on an east-west access with doorways on each end with the exception of the Onondagas who place their entryways towards the north and south. Upon entry there is a separation of genders with the women sitting together on the west end while the males congregate to the east. Only upon certain ceremonies, such as a funeral or wedding, are the genders mixed. Seating places are, among the Mohawks and Oneidas, determined by clan affiliation. Each of their three clans (wolf, bear, turtle) sit with their clan: bears to the south, wolves to the north and turtles to the east (or west on the women's side).


The only times the genders have combined seating are at weddings and funerals. When the ceremonies take place the dissemination of food and drink is determined by clan of which the Mohawks and Oneidas have three: Bear-Wolf-Turtle.

Before any assembly (political social or spiritual) the Iroquois recite what is called the Thanksgiving Address is which all of Creation is spoken to beginning with the mother earth and from there the waters of the planet; the water animals-the insects-medicine plants-food plants-trees-land animals-birds-winds-thunders-sun-moon-stars-spiritual beings-teachers and the Creator. Each species and element is acknowledged as to its specific activity and it contribution to human life.

With this the meeting may begin as those who are gathered together are of one mind and in a state of humility.

Each moon phase has a specific ceremony.  During the winter months the new year begins five days after the first new moon following the winter solstice.  It is called Midwinter and takes seven days to complete. This is followed by the Maple Ceremony then the Ceremony for the Spiritual Beings; then ceremonies for Seeds; Thunder; the Sun; the Moon; Strawberry; Raspeberry; Green Corn; Harvest; Thunder again; another ceremony for the Spirit Beings and the End of Seasons.

Iroquois Thanksgiving takes other forms. Among families there are many gatherings to share food and to celebrate life. Each meal is considered a blessing and given a robust "Niawen" or "thank you". Overall the Iroquois consider life itself a blessing.  We believe that everything which has life has integrity and must be thanked before being used. Animals are thanked before eaten as are plants before being harvested.

So grateful are the Iroquois for the blessings of life that upon leaving this world after the body returns to the earth our people have special songs of gratitude as they walk along the path of stars back to the Creator's land for there they will be embraced by their ancestors.

It is indeed good that the Americans have adopted an ancient Native ritual for all they consume while they are with their families that came from the generosity of the Natives and the fertility of our homelands.


Graphic Credits: 13 Moons on Turtle



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