First Notions #11 - Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a confusing time for Indigenous People and some feel ambivalent about celebrating the day. The historical stories are not always what they seem to be, and they are always told from one side, and that is from the colonizers’ perspective. Yet again, Indigenous people want to celebrate the harvest time and be with friends and family.

“Until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”  – African Proverb

This also applies to Indigenous people in Canada and United States, and what we hear about how the pilgrims received food from the Wampanoag Peoples. Did we even know that there was a name to the people that helped the Europeans? Did we know that one Nation was completely wiped out by diseases from the Europeans who brought them with them, and that the Wampanoag People were not immune to the new diseases from Europe?

That is why some of our people do not celebrate Thanksgiving, as it was the beginning of destruction for our Indigenous Nations in the North and South American continents. On the Wampanoag welcoming and having friendly relations with the Pilgrims, James wrote in his undelivered speech: “This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.”  (Indian Country Today, Digital Indigenous News)  As in the United States, the same concerns are shared by our peoples in Canada, and some will not celebrate Thanksgiving.

However Brian Rice, a University of Winnipeg professor and member of the Mohawk Nation, points out that for Aboriginal People “All of our ceremonies…have to do with giving thanks.” He spoke with CBC about the thousands of years that Aboriginal People have given thanks for what nature has provided for them.

Some Nations of our people are making Thanksgiving a celebration of harvest again, and of the skills the Wampanoag People taught the new people about how to plant and harvest the land.

The sense of all of us coming together as family, and celebrating the gifts of the land, and getting ready for winter is part of a returning to a better community for Indigenous people.  But we also need to remember that the past has been painful for our people.

I can say that I am grateful that the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster has given me the opportunity to write and present the story from our peoples’ voices. Archbishop Melissa has given me an opportunity to speak and write my thoughts down and give our story from our perspective.

I am thankful for that.