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November 15 is Roc Your Mocs Day. (Submitted photo)

November 15 is Roc Your Mocs Day. (Submitted photo)

Other voices — Gifts, truths for Thanksgiving

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By Jennifer Knickerbocker

Yellow Springs has been my home since the Fall of 2017. This beautiful land has unique stories to tell, and I am eager to listen. My elders share stories with me of the gashkadino-giizis — freezing over moon — of running through the forest to follow the secret paths that lead the shinaabs (good people) to the most prized wild gardens waiting to be harvested. These powerful stories hit me with the full force of gratitude for the bounty of the dagwaag (Fall) and the welcoming of the cold. It is a time of new dreams and preparations for the people.

For many Indigenous people today, and especially here in the Ohio Valley, with its lack of sovereign tribal representation, this time of year is riddled with modern day cringe-worthy moments, sadness, mourning and, sometimes, arcane anger, as we react to racist costumes at Halloween, the super-offensive mascots at sporting events, “Columbus Day” defenders and ultimately the perpetuation of a false history of Thanksgiving. Please, as you sip your seasonal pumpkin-spice latte and light your spicy-squash-scented candles, keep the eastern Indigenous Nations, such as the Haudenousaunee (Iroquis), Wyandots and the Shawnee in mind. Squash and other pumpkin relatives, being a part of the three sisters (squash, corn and beans), have a very special meaning for our people.

November is Native American Heritage Month. At least it has been since 1990, when the federal government made an official declaration, which it has reaffirmed every year since. This year was different and hit many of us with a gut-punched feeling of invisibility when the White House failed to invite Sovereign Tribal representatives to a signing ceremony and seemingly canceled our culture, although a back-dated proclamation was made on Nov. 6. To add to the insult, a new proclamation was made to honor a “National American History and Founders Month” to celebrate the first European founders and colonizers. The message and tactics were felt and heard loud and clear across Indian Country.

Being here in a new land, Ohio, a place where Indigenous people have been removed and almost forgotten, I took the new presidential proclamation personally. I struggled to find solidarity among new friends and neighbors who could understand the gravity of the messaging. It seems like a pile-on to a year where the federal government failed to consult Native Americans when approving oil pipeline projects near tribal lands, downsizing Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, expediting numerous environmental reviews, and now, the proclamation. The list is long and heavy feeling. A few local Indigenous friends sent text messages right away — our new smoke signals — with the latest hilarious memes to help each other cope; if you haven’t seen Indigenous Twitter, you’re missing out.

I find hope in the 1970s powerful speech written by Wamsutta James, a Wampanoag Elder, who gave birth to the National Day of Mourning, on the fourth Thursday of November, the same day as Thanksgiving. He wrote:

“Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the woodland paths and sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam highways and roads. We are uniting. We’re standing not in our wigwams but in your concrete tent. We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we’ll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us.”

This was written nearly a half-century ago, and we continue to unite and evolve as savvy, dynamic Indigenous people. I’m reminded that I’m not alone, we are still here and we are thriving.

Back home, we commemorate the month by wearing our moccasins to school, work and the grocery store on the fifteenth of November and we refer to this as Rock Your Mocs Day. We give side-smiles to others who rock their mocs and sometimes take selfies of our toes together in a circle to show pride and to honor our ancestors, a tradition I hope takes root here in Yellow Springs, too. 

I welcome the cold of late November, although I will miss my former traditions of the gifting and generosity with sisters and brothers, related by blood or not. So today, I’m sharing a gift with my new community of Yellow Springs as an offering of thanks. I hope you will try it and add it to your gratitude table as you remember the Indigenous relatives who gave us so much richness and knowledge. In the spirit of reciprocity, I humbly offer:

Roasted Sage-Maple Harvest/
We are still here

1 medium acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 cups of green beans, washed and stems removed, cut into 2-inch sections
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 teaspoon dry rubbed sage (or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage)
2 teaspoons olive oil or grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper to taste (I like kosher salt or Himalayan salt)

One small pinch of ash from your sage smudge (optional, but imparts a peppery, smoky flavor)


3 tablespoons of local maple syrup
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon or Dijon or whole grain mustard

Pre-heat the oven to 425º. Toss the vegetables with oil to coat. Spread out in one layer on a lined or unlined baking sheet so they are not touching. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, sage and ash. Roast for 30-–40 minutes until tender. Feel free to stir the vegetables a few times while they roast to get an even brownness.

In a bowl, mix together the dressing of maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and mustard. Pour or brush the mixture over the roasted vegetables and continue to roast for another 10–15 minutes.

Serve warm and enjoy.

Miigwech (thank you),
Jennifer Knickerbocker

* The writer belongs to the Anishinaabe people from White Earth Nation. She is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe from the Ottertail Pillager Band. She is a Yellow Springs resident and the Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations at Antioch College.

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