By Betty Mae Jumper
My first Thanksgiving memory occurred sometime after I moved to what was then called the Dania Reservation in 1928. I was probably about ten years old.
One day in the fall, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent, Mr. Spencer, came around to our house. He was passing out live turkeys. Live turkeys. Well, I certainly didn't have any idea about what was going on.
Later, I asked my grandmother, Mary Gopher Tiger, why we got the turkey and she told me she had learned stories from older people a long time ago. It was a story about Thanksgiving.
My grandmother told me lots of things. She said a long time ago, a big ship came to the shore and brought lots of white people. The men went out and made friends with the local Indians and started trading for food, such as corn and potatoes and meat and deer and birds - such as turkey.
She said the Indians also taught the white people how to fish and smoke the meat so it would last days for them to eat. After a while, people from the Ship made homes away from the big water, and they learned how to plant potatoes, corn and vegetables from the Indians.
The ships went out to sea and left, but each year they returned and brought more people and things such as clothes and that's where the Indian learned how to make clothes and to wear them.
So, my grandmother said, maybe from all of this it became known as Thanksgiving, because lots of white people invited the Indians to eat with them.
I didn't understand it very well, but I liked the turkey. And, because some Indians - especially the non-Christian Indians - wouldn't eat turkey because they thought it was a spirit bird, we got quite a few turkeys.
We kept them in a pen and ate them for a long time. We didn't have a special meal or anything. It was just a bird that we ate.
Later, when I went to the Indian Boarding School in Cherokee, N.C., I learned more about Thanksgiving. The teachers and our books told us more about the tradition, but it sounded quite a bit like what my Grandmother had said. She didn't know the dates and such, but the basic information was right, so I thought, 'well, here I'm learning about it from two sources, so it must be right.'
While I was at Cherokee, I had my first big Thanksgiving meal. My family didn't have enough money to send me home for the holidays, so I stayed at the school. We had a big meal. It was like a feast. I loved that meal.
Now that I'm older, I realize that the real meaning of Thanksgiving is a day that we should all give thanks to the Lord. In my life, I have a lot to be thankful for. I've had a number of major illnesses that could have killed me.
I had uremia and went into the hospital for weeks. I nearly died. I had both my knee joints go, and had two artificial joints put in my legs. I had a strange virus on a trip to Oklahoma, and had to be hospitalized in Texas. I nearly died from that.
I've had breast cancer and survived that and colon cancer surgery and I'm still recovering from chemotherapy.
So, maybe because of everything I've gone through, I'm even more thankful this year. The Lord has been good to me and has brought me through a lot of trouble. No matter what you're going through, I hope you take the time to thank the Lord for everything you have. We all have a precious gift. It's called life.
I want to take this time to hope everyone has a joyful Thanksgiving and that you enjoy this day. And, take a moment to reflect what it really means. Take a moment to thank the Lord.
And, pass the turkey.