a poem of diversity by G. Muther
“…The Indian knows that his skin is red,
His heart’s been broken, his blood’s been shed.
But he walks tall when he walks this land,
He’s just another man with a helping hand.
He’s a stoic warrior, a man of spirit,
A lover of the earth and all that’s in it.
He’s one with Nature, the land and sky
It pains him when the river runs dry.
It darkens his soul to see the waste
That man has done in his great haste
To satisfy his boundless taste
And leave in ruin what once was chaste.
He sees through visions what we cannot
The sacred beauty of this garden spot.
He’s the guardian angel of this mother earth,
The nurturing womb of his noble birth…”
By Kathleen Amantea Douglas
Tradition, as Tevye reminded us in Fiddler on Roof, is the guiding path generously passed on from one generation to the next. Tradition! Tradition!
Tradition rings strong for most of us around the Thanksgiving holiday. As one announcer summarized it, “a holiday of food, friends, floats & football”. Good Start.
As Americans we were taught early on about “The first Thanksgiving”–a feast held in the autumn of 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. The Pilgrims, whose survival was owed to the aid of Massasoit and theWampanog, invited them to share a celebratory feast. Americans, as have other countries, embraced the tradition of coming together to give thanks and although we do this on the same day nationally, each family brings to the table customs and traditions unique to them.
In our home, the Thanksgiving feast evokes vivid memories from our past. Memories that are punctuated by scrumptious aromas pungent with promises of epicurean ecstasy—memories of my Mother’s lasagna, my Mother-in-law’s gravy, Nonna’s endless homemade pies and long tables populated with family and friends retelling and embellishing cherished anecdotes. For the last 28 years our Thanksgiving tradition has included our most joyous tradition—celebrating the arrival of our son and only child, Adam. For me, it is a wonderful and glorious holiday absent the stress and expense of the approaching Yule. It’s a day when Americans reach out to each other, and most beautifully, a day to come together and reflect on the love and blessings in our lives. This Thanksgiving we had the honor to share in an annual cultural Thanksgiving event which remains unknown by neighbors living less than seven miles away.
Through the generosity of the Seminole Indians of Florida and our sea captain, guide and friend, Tony Parascando who is an old friend of Seminole Chief, Bob Clay,my family and I were invited to join the intimate Thanksgiving eve festivities of the local Seminole clan. I’m not exactly sure what I expected but I suppose I had a vague idea of demonstrations of traditional dance, exotic unpalatable food garnered from Everglades wildlife, a little alligator wrestling, the expectation of feeling like an outsider or spectator and with a little luck a little peyote smoking. I was in for enlightenment.
Long before we entered the compound we could hear American Bandstand or more accurately, Hank Williams’ “Your Cheating Heart” played by Disc Jockey and musician Joe Billy and his Karaoke Crooners. As we entered through the open gated driveway located on the edge of the Everglades along Rt. 41 tendrils of smoky wood fires wafted into our senses. Lighted Cheekee Huts and Long White Tents draped over a corridor of tables heaped with warming pans of ribs, turkeys, meatloaf, salad, corn, rice, beef an assortment of Indian Fry breads and an Oh My God dessert table. A second larger tent protected family size tables that had been lovingly adorned with autumn leaves and hand made candles. A campfire burned throughout the evening and was continually taunted by little boys doing what little boys do—playing with fire, albeit under the watchful eye oftheir parents.
We offered our meager pasta dish and dragged a cooler full of libations to an empty table. Around us were Seminole families and friends, many wearing traditional brightly colored skirts and shirts. Here and there were non-Indian friends and guests. Towards the rear was the bandstand—a raised Cheekee podium with multicolor spotlights, featuring Joe Billy, musical instruments, current victims and a computer screen.
The story began in 1984 with the first feast-ival organized, paid for and created by the joint efforts of Goodland resident Liz Buster and best friend Betty Clay. The event has since become a tradition still sponsored by Liz and Betty but participants bring dishes and desserts to add to the feté. Their friend, Diana OnlyaChief had come from as far as Oklahoma to visit her friends and attend the annual party. “You mean this is all free?”, I asked. “Who pays for all of this?”
“We do”, they told me.
I thought surely the girls meant the collective “we” but they did not. Liz explained it was something they wanted to do and many had since joined in.
I had promised the newspaper some pictures but my camera stayed securely hidden in my bag. I was a stranger in a strange land who was graciously offered a seat at the table. Inmy home state of Massachusetts indigenous Indians staged protests in Plymouth every Thanksgiving protesting the treatment of American Indians by the European/American people. Here in Florida, we had walked through the looking glass–the Seminoles had invited us to share their Thanksgiving feast. I was not only allowed to make pictures but was encouraged by warm smiles and treated to wonderful anecdotes. Resident Andy Buster patiently explained to me why the coffee was the best in the world, “our world”, he opined, “because the Chief makes it and that makes it the best coffee in the world.” I had no doubt that it was. Andy and Mary Kelly let me take their picture but my flash refused to cooperate. After coming back to them for a third try they patiently rewarded me with another big smile and the camera finally obliged.
I asked my son what most impressed him about the evening and his answer touched my heart. At first he was surprised that I was allowed to make pictures but after thinking for a moment he said he was most impressed with the graciousness and kindness that was a natural outpouring. He thought for another moment and said, “no it’s more, it’s the fact that there is healing. It’s moving forward, it’s healing, what could be better than that.