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About this poet

Harriet Maxwell Converse was born in Elmira, New York, in 1836. Her father, Thomas Maxwell, and her grandfather, Guy Maxwell, were both traders and adopted members of the Seneca Nation. Converse attended school in Milan, Ohio, and began writing poetry at an early age. In 1961, she married Frank Buchanan Converse, and they traveled together for several years before settling in New York City. In 1882, Converse published Sheaves: A Collection of Poems (G. P. Putnam’s Sons). Around the same time, she began serving as a political advocate for the Six Nations. In 1884, she was adopted into the Snipe Clan and given the name Ga-ya-nes-ha-oh. She was later admitted as a member of the Seneca Nation of New York Indians and given the new name Ya-ie-wa-noh; in 1891, she became the first white women to be elected as a Six Nations Chief. She died in November 1903. Her essay collection Myths and Legends of the New York State Iroquois (University of the State of New York) was published posthumously in 1908.

The Thanksgivings

Translated from a traditional Iroquois prayer

 

We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here to praise Him.
We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.
We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products to live on.
We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs for our lands.
We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.
We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming from them for us all.
We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows for our shelter.
We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder and lightning that water the earth.
We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun that works for our good.
We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.
We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank all its trees.
We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.
We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs, the stars.
We give Him thanks for our supporters, who had charge of our harvests.
We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard through the words of Ga-ne-o-di-o.
We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant occasion.
We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit's music, and hope they will be privileged to continue in his faith.
We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies on this occasion.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Harriet Maxwell Converse

Harriet Maxwell Converse, who was the first white woman elected as a Six Nations Chief, was the author of Sheaves: A Collection of Poems (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1882).