For Canadians and Americans, Thanksgiving is a celebration that consists of being thankful, spending time with family and eating a lot of food. But for the 4.3 per cent of Canada’s population that identifies as Indigenous, the holiday, known for turkey and mashed potatoes, has different connotations.
The mainstream version of Thanksgiving’s history is that it’s a celebration of when the first European settlers in North America and the Indigenous people who resided here came together and had a feast celebrating unity and the sharing of resources.
According to Christina Restoule of Conestoga’s Aboriginal Services, this is the version of history that has been romanticized in the mainstream and what a lot of people are willing to believe.
Historically, Thanksgiving is actually the celebratory feast European settlers had after the slaughter and deaths of hundreds of Indigenous people.
What Thanksgiving has evolved into now, though, is more about being in the spirit of giving thanks. For this reason, some Indigenous people do choose to celebrate this version of Thanksgiving.
“Some Indigenous people choose to celebrate Thanksgiving and other Christian holidays and some Indigenous people choose not to,” said Restoule. “And bringing the history of Indigenous people to the forefront isn’t done so as to shame anyone who chooses to celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s just to recognize the history. We have to recognize that some Indigenous people come from mixed families that have different belief systems.”
When asked how she felt about the uninformed education surrounding Thanksgiving and the continued celebration of it, Sabrina Meidinger said she felt annoyed. Meidinger is a member of the Indigenous community and comes from a mixed family. Although her family does get together and eat around Thanksgiving, she said neither side celebrates it from a historical perspective.
“I think that there’s been a lot of talk about reconciliation in this country lately and there’s been movement,” said Meidinger. “Like the government finally recognizing what happened in residential schools. But the school curriculum isn’t changing in terms of the whole truth. Recognizing partial truths isn’t good enough. The fact that we are taught to celebrate a day that brought a lot of pain for First Nations people is sort of sick.”
Teen Vogue produced a video on YouTube about Thanksgiving from Indigenous girls’ perspectives and what it means to them. It expresses the frustration that Indigenous people face in terms of the ignorance of their history in society.
Instead of focusing on and celebrating Thanksgiving, Restoule outlined the importance of the fall equinox to Indigenous people.
“Fall equinox signifies the beginning of this harvest season, the fall season. It is a season of harvest and hunting,” said Restoule. “And it is in preparation for Mother Earth’s rest period. Because although Mother Earth is going through her rest period, we still have to sustain ourselves. It’s our responsibility to find that balance so that we can sustain ourselves while Mother Earth is going through her rest period.”
A series by CBC called Colonization Road has begun talking about Canada’s history, with comedian and narrator Ryan McMahon. The series talks about it in a way that adds tasteful humour to a dark subject, making it more comfortable for non-Indigenous people to watch and learn about.