By SIERRA RUSSELL
The Aztec Press has reported on autumn festivities since its earliest issues.
Reporters have reflected upon Thanksgiving in a variety of ways. One called the holiday “a time to be thankful to those in our past and our present who have given us our freedom.”
A number of people questioned its origin and criticized the holiday. One staff writer quoted an anonymous instructor who called Thanksgiving a “national day of mourning” for Native American tribes.
Although Thanksgiving is a relatively young tradition, most cultures have celebrated the fall harvest for centuries.
For many Americans, native or not, the main focus of Thanksgiving is on food. Other underlying themes concern gratitude and fulfillment of family and culture.
A 1979 interview with Joe Begay, an adviser to Native Americans students, explores spiritual views of the Navajo nation.
Begay said three central things help a person become fulfilled: knowing where you come from, knowing why you’re here and knowing where you’re going.
Most traditional Navajos believe they “emerged from Mother Earth, are here to help others and share everything Mother Earth provides,” he said.
They believe they will return to the earth from which they once emerged, where “there is no such thing as heaven or devils,” Begay added.
The early ‘80s revealed a shift in Pima County tribal culture. Less was reported about alcoholism and bootlegging on reservations. Instead, stories focused on educational programs and cultural conflicts.
An interview with Robert Williams, then director of the University of Arizona’s Tribal Law Clinic, discussed lingering racism.
Williams encouraged readers to be aware of the idea that “white society had the right to investigate tribal customs and mandate changes destructive to tribal cultures.”
He also stressed the importance of having a thorough knowledge of history because “the effects of the past are felt in the present.”
Over the decades, other articles focused on literacy programs geared toward Native Americans of all ages. Some classes offered no college credit, but were free of charge.
Classes that help to preserve language and culture of nearby tribes have been added to Pima’s curriculum. Classes are currently offered in the history and language of tribes such as Tohono O’odham, Yaqui and Navajo or Dine.
Although native tribes have adapted to some changes, many traditions remain firmly intact.
Pima student Rebekah Fredenberg, a member of the Navajo nation, considers Thanksgiving a chance to spend time with her family and cook together.
“We’ve never talked about the meaning of the holiday because we’re so busy cooking, cleaning and looking after livestock,” Fredenberg said. “We talk politics, but the focus is usually on current events.”
She described a custom popular in many Navajo households: butchering a sheep. Although Fredenberg’s family usually bakes a traditional turkey as well, she said the process of preparing the sheep brings the entire family together.
Another member of the Navajo nation, Mallory Ashley, described the sheep-butchering custom as a time when “no verbal communication is needed because everyone knows what to do, like clockwork.”
Ashley laughs as she adds, “Even the young children can help by holding a limb steady as Grandma picks the skin off.”
Regardless of what the harvest brings to the dinner table, many cultures celebrate Thanksgiving.
The holiday may be called by different names or honored for various reasons, yet one common theme remains. It is a time to share a feast with loved ones and be grateful for the rewards of the season.