Thanksgiving with Native Americans

by Maureen Fiedler

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This Thanksgiving on Interfaith Voices, we decided not to focus on the story of the Puritans. Instead, we explored the faith of the Wampanoag People, the Native Americans who were already living in New England when the Puritans arrived. Our guests were two Native American women: Ramona Peters who is Wampanoag herself, and Clara Sue Kidwell, who traces her heritage to the Choctaw and Chippewa peoples.

Both described a Native American spirituality that celebrated nature in all its movement, beauty and bounty. Native peoples, they said, do not see themselves (as the Puritans did) as submitting to the will of an all-powerful God, but as responsible participants in a spiritual world where their actions matter, for good or for ill. Those of us who treasure our natural environment could learn a lot from that perspective.

Especially noteworthy is the fact that the Wampanoag People treated the Puritans with great religious tolerance, but the Puritans – who came to North America seeking religious freedom for themselves – did not treat the Wampanoag People with similar tolerance.

Ramona Peters quoted from a papal bull of Pope Nicholas V in 1455 calling Native Americans “savages” because they were not Christian. That attitude apparently influenced the Puritans even though they did not regard themselves as subject to the Pope. And it’s still true: what the Pope says matters to many people beyond the boundaries of Catholicism.

This interview with Native American women can be heard on line as of Thursday morning on Interfaith Voices. t

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