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Moving History: The Components of the Oneida Indian Nation's Float in the Macy's Parade

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The Oneida Indian Nation's iconic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float, The True Spirit of Thanksgiving, will begin it's journey tomorrow morning, moving south from Central Park to Macy's Herald Square in Manhattan. The True Spirit of Thanksgiving, which made its debut in 2008 and is the first float to be sponsored by an American Indian nation in the 85-year history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, is a moving story, one that warrants close inspection.

The True Spirit of Thanksgiving is the symbolic representation of the establishment of peace on earth by peace between and among nations. On the float you will see the four roots, which are outstretched to the four directions so that all people may be be able to find their way to the great peace and be sheltered beneath it's tender branches. The float also pay homage to the thankful harvest ceremonies of Indian people that were first shared with the newcomers to this land, as well as the thankful hearts of the Indian people as they shared all of their blessings with the wandering pilgrims.

Here's a breakdown of the elements that comprise this incredible testament to American Indian spirit:

Turtle’s back: other animals had covered with soil from beneath the sea. Thus living things may always find nourishment from the soil, for it springs from Mother Earth.

On the Turtle’s back (known as Turtle Island) stands a White Pine Tree. The roots that spread out from the tree are called the Great Roots of Peace, and they spread in the four directions: one to the north, one to the south, one to the east, and one to the west.

On top of this Great Tree is placed an Eagle. The Eagle keeps a watchful eye on the roots and if any danger approaches, he will scream loudly, sounding the alarm and all the Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy will at once come to the defense and rescue. This symbolizes that everyone has the responsibility to protect the peace.

Wampum Belts:

Two Row Belt: On the front of the float is a depiction of a Two Row Wampum Belt. This belt depicts friendship and cooperation between the American Indians and the European newcomers. It symbolizes that we travel the river of life side by side, and we don’t interfere with each other. The two rows never intersect; they are parallel and equal.

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Hiawatha (or Six Nations) Belt: This belt is a visual record of the creation of the Haudenosaunee (also know as the Iroquois) Confederacy. The five original Nations that make up Confederacy are: Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk. (A sixth Nation, Tuscarora, was later added to the Iroquois).

Oneida Belt: The Oneida Belt design and the Oneida seal appear on the sides of the float. The rectangle shapes of the Oneida Belt depict the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy and the diamond shapes depict the council fires of each Nation. The Oneida Seal incorporates an image of the Tree of Peace along with symbols of each Clan of the Oneida – Turtle, Wolf and Bear.

Bundle of Arrows: A bundle of five arrows symbolize strength in unity for the Iroquois. It is easy for one arrow to be broken. But bound together, the arrows hold strong against adversity and challenges to form a union which no one can bend or break. This symbolizing can be seen on the $1 dollar bill with an eagle clutching thirteen arrows in its claws.

Four Directions: The Roots of Peace stretch out from the White Pine Tree in all four directions. Each platform on the float represents Native cultures from across the land. Artwork and collections from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian were referenced in creating these colorful displays.

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The Tree of Peace rises off the Turtle's back

The Turtle: The turtle symbolizes Turtle Island, a symbol of Mother Earth to the Oneida people and many other Native Americans.

The Tree of Peace: The White Pine is the Tree of Peace. The Oneidas believe the Peacemaker came to the Iroquois and uprooted the tree, telling them to bury their weapons of war underneath its roots. He thus brought peace to the Iroquois Confederacy. The White Pine Tree is the only evergreen with needles in bunches of five – which symbolizes the number of original Iroquois Nations.