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October 04, 2018

Thanksgiving Reconsidered

Fostering Community

This weekend, I will host my family and loved ones for a Thanksgiving meal. It will be a lively and loving affair, slightly dysfunctional by all normal family standards, and together, we will create another collective and cherished memory.

Growing up in the Salvation Army, my introduction to Thanksgiving was as a Christian holiday. I recall the rousing hymns that filled the worship space, and felt certain that all Canadians were “Bringing in the Sheaves”. Didn’t everyone celebrate in this way? As a child, I had no reason to think otherwise.

Over the years, my appreciation for and understanding of diversity has grown. I am grateful to live in a country where being Canadian can mean so many different things, and I embrace the challenge and the importance of exploring aspects of Canadian culture beyond my own. Simply put, I love learning about the many faces, facets and experiences that make up the history and the people of our vast country, and am humbled by what I do not yet know.

Our school has dedicated this year to growing our knowledge and understanding of Canada’s indigenous history and cultures, and I’m aware that many Indigenous peoples have a very different perspective on Thanksgiving. So this year, I decided to undertake a bit of research around the holiday’s history, stepping outside my own cultural bubble.

Here’s what I learned:

First, we need to be able to laugh at the absurdities of history. A holiday that celebrates the bounty of our harvest before winter sets in….well, that’s hardly a novel idea. The First Nations were doing this long before the Europeans arrived.

Second, Thanksgiving is a manufactured holiday. In the United States, it existed as a regional celebration in New England, until the end of the Civil War when Lincoln declared it a National holiday as a way to bring the country together. Here’s where we see the start of the Plymouth Rock mythology.

In Canada, Thanksgiving arose out of a “Canada First” movement, driven by white, Anglo-Saxon protestants. In fact, a Thanksgiving day sermon in 1885, delivered in Winnipeg by Reverand Charles Bruce Pitblado, inspired by the North-West Rebellion and the execution of Louis Riel, called on Canadians to “Christianize and civilize the Indian.” (It’s really not hard to see why manifestations of Thanksgiving don’t sit well with many Indigenous peoples.)

Third, this Sunday (October 7) represents the 255th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Why does this matter? The Royal Proclamation is sometimes referred to as the “Indian Magna Carta”. It extends rights to Indigenous peoples that still exist today (i.e., It’s in the constitution). The Proclamation recognised Indigenous peoples as nations, acknowledged hunting and fishing rights, and recognised Indigenous land ownership. Unfortunately, we have repeatedly overlooked many of its rules throughout our history.

Finally, Thanksgiving is a relatively new holiday, so we can reinvent it to represent anything we desire – perhaps a consideration for Truth and Reconciliation? (Credit to Christine Sismondo at Maclean’s for the inspiring thought).

So to all members of our school community, I hope this weekend brings you time together with family and friends. As my own family comes together to share a meal and give thanks, I will be thinking of the many blessings I receive every day from our wonderful Trafalgar Castle family.

Meegwetch. Thank you.

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