This year, just like every year, I was asked to join in on some Thanksgiving feasts here in Ontario. My brothers and their children are in the interior of BC, and my mom is now in Arizona, so there is no real family turkey dinner for me, and there hasn’t been for some time. Over the years, I have mostly not taken part in Thanksgiving dinners, and the few times that I have joined families, it has been nothing short of awkward.
This one time I had agree to “celebrate” Thanksgiving at this Muskoka mansion cottage with the beautiful and warm family of my boyfriend at the time (European Canadians). That weekend, in the Saturday’s Globe & Mail there was a huge spread about the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. I read the story and was so deeply saddened by it that I had to spend a majority of the time alone reflecting and being quiet. I was there in this beautiful place and surrounded by grandeur, but I was left thinking of those Aboriginal women who had had such misfortune. No one understood what was wrong with me, and nor could I articulate how I felt so blessed but so sad all at the same time, so I never did explain. I knew no one cared to hear what I had to say that day, so I bit my tongue.
I don’t like to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner is because it actually hurts me. When I think of all these Canadian families getting together and cooking up a turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce and they are giving thanks for their lives, their prosperity, and for each other I think of all the Aboriginal people across this country who don’t have food to eat and who are living lives of desperate poverty. In Toronto, there are 28,000 at risk Aboriginal people living in this city which simply breaks my heart. And then there’s the poverty that exists all across Canada on First Nations reserves, especially in the remote and rural communities, like Attawapiskat. While I am thankful for all the wonderful things that I have in my life, I don’t need a day set aside to remember this fact, I do so daily.
But in Canada, according to Wikipedia: “Thanksgiving is seen by Canadians in the 21st century almost exclusively as a day to share a meal with extended family, free of any religious, historical or political context.” It seems how this Canadian holiday has evolved has no clear tale, and it’s not as rife with the Pilgrim Plymouth myths of our American counterparts, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have colonial ties.
The history of colonialism has not been good for my ancestors. The Tsilhqot’in Nation was nearly decimated by smallpox, and the fight against colonialist attitudes continues to this day. The effects of colonialism has also left Aboriginal peoples disproportionately ranked among the poorest of Canadians. The median income for Aboriginal peoples is 30% lower (at $18, 962) than the median income for non-Aboriginal Canadians. This disturbing level of income inequality is hardly something to be thankful for.
As I sit out this Canadian holiday I also think of my American family, and my Native American sisters and brothers south of the border who are sanctioned to celebrate Columbus Day.
Did you know that Columbus supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery? Young girls of the ages 9 to 10 were the most desired by his men. In 1500, Columbus casually wrote about it in his log. He said: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.” Eric Kasum for Huffington Post.
This new video made by students from Dartmouth makes me proud.
The silver lining time has come. Well, sort of. Thankfully back in 1990 there was a meeting in Ecuador with over 350 representatives from Indigenous groups who met at the very first Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas to mobilize against Columbus Day. On October 12, 1992 the “International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People” was declared. It is now know simply as the Indigenous Peoples Day. It’s purpose it to promote Native American culture, and to commemorate the history of Native American peoples.
This is what I choose to celebrate, so when families are ready to start feasting and celebrating my holiday, that’s when I’ll join their tables. Until then, I’ll observe the holiday in my own way. This year it was spending time learning more about history and solidarity, next year maybe I’ll have my own celebration with my fellow urban Indigenous peoples, or maybe I’ll be able to be on my home territory surrounded by my Tsilhqot’in family. One thing is for sure, I will not bite my tongue, play polite at the dinner table any longer, and pretend that I’m not uncomfortable celebrating the genocide of my ancestors.