by Philo Hagen
Tracing the first thanksgiving back to 1621 when 53 Pilgrims celebrated the first harvest in the “new world” with 90 Native Americans, or so the tale has been spun for generations, all gave thanks for a friendly feast that lasted for three days. And long before Oprah and others were telling us to find our gratitude, the New England colonists were routinely accustomed to celebrating “thanksgivings”, days of prayer to thank God for their blessings, blessings like the end of a drought or a military victory. At the first Thanksgiving pilgrims were thankful to native people for giving them food, farming techniques, and ways to beat the bitter New England cold. In return they received the decimation of millions. It’s no wonder a group called the United American Indians of New England established Thanksgiving as its National Day of Mourning, and yet, Jacqueline Keeler, a member of the Dineh Nation and Yankton Dakota Sioux, believes there is still cause for giving thanks.
Keeler recognizes that Native peoples today have survived mass murder, forced relocation, theft of land and other injustices, and done so “with our ability to share and to give intact.” This is what gives Keeler hope that healing is possible. Speaking about the first Thanksgiving she also notes, “These were not merely ‘friendly Indians.’ They had already experienced European slave traders raiding their villages for a hundred years or so, and they were wary — but it was their way to give freely to those who had nothing. Among many of our peoples, showing that you can give without holding back is the way to earn respect.”
Over the past decade in the modern hooping community, I have encountered a lot of givers. I’ve met more relatively selfless individuals centered around the hoop than I have anywhere else, and in my independent, casual and random surveys of hoopers too, it often seems that the hoop itself is responsible. Four-time world champion hoop dancer Brian Hammill once said, “The hoop dance represents our journey through the circle of life. Each hoop represents a thread in the intricate web. The formations representing various creations that we see along our life’s journey. Almost every native nation has a story about the hoop dance.” Modern hoopers today, too, spreading far and wide around the world, have hoop dance stories of their own as well – tales of becoming present, of finding joy, of healing, of transformation. It seems clear that the hoop is a powerful tool for those who incorporate it into their lives, perhaps regardless of cultural or stylistic differences. And though there may be the occasional awkward moment of confusion or comment made regarding cultural appropriation – when asked recently what sense I’ve been able to make of it all, my answer was simply, “I think we’re working on that.”
I must, however, fully admit that I borrowed the line from the new song “Working On That” by Donna the Buffalo. More energized and focused than ever before in their near 25-year career, the first studio album in five years from these roots-music troubadours is really good, thanks in part to the track in question which, perhaps quite accidentally, captures my feelings about Thanksgiving. And when I watched the music video for it too, there was just something about seeing these stewards of Americana music, their signature sound of traditional mountain music infused with elements of Cajun, rock, folk and country, serving as a soundtrack for a hoop dance by two time World Champion Hoop Dancer Moontee Sinquah and his sons Sampson and Scott, that had me smiling brightly through tears.
Moontee started hoop dancing back in 2005, although his sons started much earlier. Scott and Sampson began at ages 3 and 4 in 1996, learning the art from Quentin Pipestem from Alberta, Canada, the uncle of modern First Nations hoop dancer Arik Pipestem. Moontee told us, “I too learned his style, but was encouraged by my sons. To us the hoop dance is still a healing dance. They say that every time you put your body through the hoop you are adding a day on to a sick persons life. So we like to take this dance throughout the world because many people need healing, as well as our environment. We were very fortunate to be asked to be part of the video and to have been in the area at the time. It was just meant to be.”
Donna the Buffalo co-founder Jeb Puryear, who wrote the words and music explained, “There is a growing cross section of good people, crossing all lines of race, border, religion and economics that will triumph. Their triumph will have no loser, for the victory is peace.” I, for one, like to think that the hooping community is part of that growing cross section and that we’re spinning it ever wider as we continue to make the circle bigger. I’m thankful those like Donna the Buffalo and Moontee Sinquah and his sons who are working on that, and thankful for all of you who are as well. However you choose to celebrate, or not celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, may yours be a day of gratitude, hope and peace.
Philo Hagen is the Co-founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org. He’s been spinning things up online and off since April 2003. Co-Founder of the Bay Area Hoopers and LA Hoopers hoop groups, Philo has performed internationally and has won Hoopie Awards for Male Hooper of the Year and Video of the Year. He lives in Los Angeles, California, USA.