With respect to this past weekend, we’re pretty sure that this Thanksgiving had a meaning more special than many of the ones that were celebrated in recent times. Of course, for the more senior generations, they will most certainly point to those very special Thankgivings that came at the end of the two great wars.
Given what we are going through – a stubborn and deadly virus; vaccines and the argument around vaccine passports; civil liberties; isolation; unemployment; homelessness etc, etc – there must have been a lot of laughter and good cheer now that there is reason for hope that the virus may be reaching a point where life can be lived much like before the SARS‑CoV‑2 landed on our shores. So giving thanks was quite in order.
However, it is one thing to know and “feel” Thanksgiving in the way we do now, and another to follow and embrace its colonial and settler history; sometimes what you find is not pretty.
From all that we know about Canadian Thanksgiving it seems that it may or may not be traced to older Indigenous and European harvest festivals and, according to Mclean’s magazine to a “meaty celebration hosted by Samuel de Champlain in Port-Royal on Nov. 14, 1606, which saw Europeans and Indigenous peoples breaking bread together. It was organized as part of the ‘Order of Good Cheer’ dinner party series that was invented to make sure the colonists ate and drank enough to stave off scurvy and malnutrition.” Or maybe it was a seven-day ritual of Thanksgiving feasts central to the Haudenosaunee culture; or some or none of the above.
Whatever the reason(s) for this special day in the calendar, we ended up with a Canadian Thanksgiving celebrated on Columbus Day (in the Americas) – a birthday celebration that White settlers enjoy and the Indigenous people abhor. In fact, they just removed a statue of Columbus in Mexico.
Indigenous people annually demonstrate against the Columbus birthday celebrations. In Chile they dub their demonstration “Mapuche resistance”. Meanwhile, most Canadians simply enjoy the Thanksgiving Day holiday and view it as a version of the American November celebration, even believing the story about the White settlers breaking bread with friendly “Indians”.
Given what we know, it was hardly a friendly feast. It was a massacre. According Glen Ford, editor of Black Agenda Report: “Thanksgiving is not just a twisted fable, and the mythology it nurtures is itself inherently evil….The near-erasure of Native Americans in Massachusetts and, soon thereafter, from most of the remainder of the northern English colonial seaboard was the true mission of the Pilgrim enterprise…Thanksgiving as presently celebrated – that is, as a national political event – is an affront to civilization.”
Considering that at this time our country is going through a reckoning with our troubled past with our Indigenous brethren, perhaps it’s time to rethink the meaning of future Thanksgivings and take Christine Sismondo advice in 2017 Mclean’s Magazine article about our Thanksgiving: “A good start would be to acknowledge that Europe had pre-contact harvest feast traditions of their own, but to stop pretending Europeans invented Thanksgiving in Canada or the United States and, instead, consider how to repurpose the holiday to redress historical wrongs—and imagine a new Canadian identity.”