Thankful for strength and resilience

Harvest season brings families, tribe together
Douglas Cox at Keshena Falls
Greg Mellis | NEW Media

It is easy to be thankful for being a Menominee and part of this great Menominee Nation. Each day is a reminder of how our people are survivors, fighters, winners and hold powerful spirits.

The Menominee are family oriented, community driven and strong willed to the extent that we have a history of never giving up and always coming together. In our native ways, we celebrate this fall season by practicing the ways we are taught and the lifestyles handed down to us for many, many generations.

The Menominee have historically been hunter-gatherers, and it is no different today, as our members enjoy the fall for gathering berries, hunting for waterfowl and big game, while still sharing those stories and legends that make us the people we are.

Those lessons and teachings in our oral traditions are carried on in these current times and our Menominee leaders are assuring that this vital part of our culture is not lost, and in fact, it is recognized as our responsibility to assure its preserved for our future.

Our days of fall hunting and gathering consist of bringing family together and working on filling our cupboards with foods for the coming winter, while still sharing our harvests beyond what we would use with those in need. Of course, a season of gathering means a season of feasts, and again this includes our families, relatives and communities, who celebrate this time of year by honoring those that have passed before us.

It is a time of year to remember our loved ones and celebrate their spirits, and it is done within our families and with community gatherings known as ghosts’ feasts or suppers.

The events consist of entirely traditional foods and normally include berries, wild rice, venison, bear, ducks, grouse, fish, hull corn soups, homemade bread (traditionally known as nanapun), and fry bread. The feasts will have a spiritual and ceremonial component for many families, but mostly it is a time to enjoy our traditional ways and the family unity.

So when it comes to the recognized holiday called Thanksgiving, it can be a sensitive time for our tribal nation, due to the harsh history of non-native settlement that began on 1621 and the resulting infringements on Native people. This is the reason that our tribal nations now recognize November as Native American Heritage Month, and not specifically Thanksgiving or Columbus Day, which even now in Wisconsin has been proclaimed as Indigenous Peoples Day via Executive Order 50.

This is because of a history full of trauma and turmoil that not only resulted in loss of lands, but for many nations it was the loss of their place on the land. This impending trauma created culture shock and through further repression attempts by the government, we nearly lost our language and culture.

For our Menominee Nation, it is no different, and although we were able to defeat those efforts to move us out of our homelands, we did suffer greatly from the traumatic changes that were forced on us during settlement, treaty era and the government’s termination plan.

So today when we celebrate this time of Thanksgiving in a more modern way — which many of us do in fact have the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pies — its with great determination and pride as a nation that has survived massive struggles and loss, yet knowing we can be thankful we are survivors, winners and a people with great unity in our tribe, communities and families.

So today I am thankful to be Omāēqnomenēw (Menominee) people of the wild rice and to know our tribe is still here, filled with pride, strength and spirit. As we say: “Waewaenen” (Thank you).



Douglas Cox is the chairman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin