On this eve of the holiday we call Thanksgiving here in the U.S., I find myself in a paradox of gratitude and grief. I’m reminded anew that “awakening,” while offering us the keys to liberation, also asks us to unlock our denial, to see the ways we’ve been complicit in our own imprisonment. It’s the shadow, the contraction necessary before birth, the yucky part.

But first let’s talk about the yummy part.

The ruby red cranberries simmer and pop as I make sauce to go with the turkey that I will enjoy tomorrow with my beautiful blended NorCal family. At this year’s table, I will be with my beloved husband, my was-band and our daughter, my step mom (hosting) and step sister who’ve been like my blood since I was 10 years old, my adopted nephew, my brother-in-love, and other dear friends.

We’ll take a long walk through the autumn leaves before our meal, play games, enjoy the goodness of home cooked potluck, free flowing wine and hilarity with awkward family relating to spice things up.

We’ll move through our complicated history which by it’s sheer volume engenders trust, allowing us to relax into the fibers of faith that weave us together.

Yes, it’s taken commitment and investment to get here. The little choices over time, to lean in and keep reaching out to each other. And the bigger decisions like choosing to Forgive and Accept.

But what’s also true is the miracle of it, the grace that feels beyond all of our trying. And when I think of that, it’s easy to simply surrender into the candle-flickering-champagne-bubble-joygasmic frequency of this thing we call gratitude. For the love, abundance, freedom and feasting that this harvest day heralds in the land of my relations.

Perhaps it’s inevitable that when a heart gets this full it simply has to break open. “That’s how the light gets in,” as Leonard Cohen says.

Because what’s simultaneously true is that while my country commemorates this day as a “Discovery of a New World,” it also marks the beginning of the genocide of Native American people by the white man. For this reason, tomorrow is honored as a Day of Mourning by many of our indigenous brothers and sisters.

Closer to home, I’m currently reading about the Nisenan, the indigenous peoples of the land I live on.* Having thrived in the Sierras for approximately 10,000 years, they had sophisticated governance, communities, culture, language, agriculture, forest management and hunting mastery.

In 1848, just prior to the gold rush, there were approximately 7,000 Nisenan men, women and children living in this local vicinity.

Twenty years later, they numbered just 500.

By 1934, only 18 had survived.

“Today most people think of the word ‘extermination’ in connection with the Nazi holocaust of Jews…however, in the U.S. the actual first usage of the term was in California, applied by the first Californian governor to California Indians.” **

The Federal and newly formed California State government sanctioned the massacre of the native people in countless, highly effective ways. Here’s just one and it’s very hard to hear. Miners who increasingly weren’t finding easy success with gold could make money by bounty hunting: the head of an Indian was worth $5.

I’m reading documentation of endless atrocities, treachery, and evil. I have pictures in my mind that I’m not sure will ever leave me. I feel nauseated. The grief wells up and I just have to cry the tears until they’re done.

I remember text books from grammar school showing happy smiling Indians shaking hands and offering pumpkins to Pilgrims in pointy hats. And I’m horrified.

On this Thanksgiving, I’m letting my heart break open with some deeper truths about this land that I love, that I call “home,” this little town in the Sierra Madre that I adore, built during the gold rush on stolen land saturated with blood and sorrow.

Every day I walk past sites with little commemorative plaques, like the church on the corner that was originally the first general store to sell goods and likely weapons to those miners. I hike the trails, splash creek water on my face and touch the rock formations that witnessed the trauma of that time.

I give thanks to the sisters in my local social activism and racism awareness group for the opportunity to sit in circle with you, confront our “white fragility” together, and do the hard work of metabolizing the sizable sins we carry in our lineage and perpetuate in our privilege.

I commit to learn more about my local Nisenan community and continue my monthly monetary pledge to CHIRP, California Heritage Indigenous Research Project , in support of their efforts to stabilize their people and continue their campaign to restore their federal recognition (which they still do not have).

I will also celebrate this holiday of giving thanks with the family that I love. Because in times this challenging, we absolutely must stay connected to our inner resources, our Shakti life force energy. That’s how we build capacity.

So we can stay rooted in our fierce love and allow our hearts to break wide open. So we can cry the tears that need to be shed. So we can speak about the things that have too long been unspoken. So we can have compassion for the complexity inherent in our own awakening. So we can take refuge in the blessing it is to simply be alive.

Thank you for sharing this moment with me, for reading these words and being part of my community of beloveds. I am so grateful for you.

With so much love,

Lisa Schrader


* History of Us: Nisenan Tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria, compiled by Tribal Chairman Richard B. Johnson
** (ibid: quote from Karen Elizabeth Nelson from her thesis, “Governor’s Call for Extermination”)

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash