Updated: Oct 7
TL;DR: This blog post explores the true history of Thanksgiving in Canada, revealing how European colonizers adopted Indigenous traditions while perpetuating harm. It traces the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving to Indigenous harvest festivals, emphasizing the Haudenosaunee Confederacy's influence. The post acknowledges that European settlers adapted Indigenous customs but did so alongside colonization, disease, and cultural assimilation. It sheds light on the harm inflicted on Indigenous peoples and the erasure of their culture, emphasizing the need for reconciliation, recognition, and support for Indigenous communities. Alternative greetings and ways to acknowledge the holiday are suggested to promote inclusivity and cultural awareness.
Author's Note: As a white person, a colonizer, and a mother, it is of utmost importance to me that I comprehend and impart to my children the authentic origins of Thanksgiving in Canada. I firmly believe that by doing so, we can confront the harm that has been inflicted (and continues to be inflicted) on the Indigenous Community. Educating ourselves and our children about the genuine history of Thanksgiving empowers us to shoulder the responsibility of our past, actively engage in reconciliation efforts, and advocate for a future that is more inclusive, secure, and equitable for everyone.
If you feel defensive while reading this post, that's ok. It's hard to learn and accept these things about ourselves and our ancestors. I encourage you to sit with the feeling and ask yourself WHY these feelings are coming up. Do more research (links at the bottom), listen to Indigenous voices, hear their stories. Try and approach from an open-minded place. This post isn't about making you feel bad about yourself, your family, etc. We're here to learn and do better.
In this blog post, we will delve into the real history of Thanksgiving in Canada, focusing on how European colonizers adopted and adapted Indigenous traditions while simultaneously perpetuating harm and cultural assimilation.
The origins of Thanksgiving in Canada can be traced back to the rich tapestry of Indigenous traditions that predate European contact. Indigenous communities across North America celebrated the harvest season with ceremonies, feasts, and dances, expressing gratitude for the bounty of the Earth and their spiritual connection to it. One of the most influential Indigenous groups in shaping Thanksgiving in Canada was the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, who practiced their "Thanksgiving Address" or "The Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen," a ceremonial expression of gratitude for the natural world and the Creator's gifts. Colonial Adoption and Assimilation
When European settlers, particularly French and English explorers, arrived in what is now Canada during the 17th century, they brought their own customs and traditions. One of these was the concept of "Days of Thanksgiving," which they held sporadically to give thanks for safe voyages, successful harvests, and other blessings. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that these early European celebrations were not rooted in the same spiritual and communal traditions as the Indigenous harvest festivals.
As the colonizers settled in North America, they began to adapt and adopt aspects of Indigenous traditions, including the harvest celebrations. This process of cultural exchange resulted in the development of a unique Canadian Thanksgiving tradition, which blended Indigenous and European elements. While on the surface, this may seem like a harmonious fusion, it was occurring alongside a deeply problematic history of colonization and harm to Indigenous communities.
Harm to Indigenous Peoples
The colonizers' presence and expansion had devastating consequences for Indigenous peoples. The European settlers brought diseases, such as smallpox, which decimated Indigenous populations. They also stole Indigenous lands, leading to dispossession, displacement, and the destruction of traditional ways of life.
Furthermore, the colonizers implemented policies aimed at assimilating Indigenous peoples into Euro-Canadian culture. Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to residential schools, where they were subjected to cultural erasure, abuse, and neglect. These actions sought to eradicate Indigenous languages, customs, and traditions.
Thanksgiving, as it evolved, became a symbol of the colonizers' dominance. The settlers' narrative of Thanksgiving often overshadowed or appropriated Indigenous harvest festivals, further marginalizing Indigenous voices and contributions to Canadian society. The real history of Thanksgiving in Canada is not solely a tale of gratitude and harvest celebrations but also a narrative intertwined with colonization and its harmful impacts on Indigenous peoples. While Indigenous traditions influenced the development of Canadian Thanksgiving, they did so in a context marked by dispossession, disease, and cultural assimilation.
It is essential to recognize and acknowledge this complex history as we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada today. While the holiday has evolved into a time of gratitude and family gatherings, it is also a reminder of the ongoing need for reconciliation, recognition of Indigenous contributions, and support for Indigenous communities as they work towards healing and cultural revitalization.
Here are some alternative greetings and ways to acknowledge the holiday:
Happy Harvest Festival: This greeting emphasizes the harvest aspect of the holiday, which is a common theme in both Indigenous and European traditions.
Grateful Gathering: Emphasize the spirit of gratitude and coming together with this greeting.
Harmony and Heritage: Acknowledge the diverse cultural influences that have shaped Canadian Thanksgiving, including Indigenous heritage and European traditions.
Reflect and Reconcile: Use this greeting as a reminder of the importance of reflection on the history of colonization and the need for reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
Bountiful Blessings: Focus on the blessings of the harvest and the richness of Canada's cultural tapestry.
Land and Legacy: Recognize the Indigenous connection to the land and the lasting legacy of Indigenous traditions.
Community Compassion: Shift the focus towards giving back to the community, whether through volunteer work, donations to Indigenous organizations, or supporting local food banks.
In addition to alternative greetings, consider incorporating Indigenous elements into your Thanksgiving celebrations, such as learning about and acknowledging the traditional territories on which you reside, supporting Indigenous artisans and businesses, and engaging in respectful discussions about the history and contributions of Indigenous peoples. These actions help foster a more inclusive and culturally aware approach to Thanksgiving in Canada.
Here are three Canadian Indigenous organizations that you can consider donating to:
Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC):
NWAC is an organization that advocates for the rights of Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people in Canada.
First Nations Child & Family Caring Society (FNCFCS):
FNCFCS works to ensure equitable access to services for First Nations children and families and advocates for the rights of Indigenous children in Canada.
Indspire is a national Indigenous-led registered charity that invests in the education and development of Indigenous people in Canada.
These organizations play crucial roles in supporting and uplifting Indigenous communities in Canada, and your donations can contribute to their important work. Be sure to visit their websites to learn more about their initiatives and the impact of your contributions.
Native American Rights Fund (NARF) - Thanksgiving: A Native Perspective: Article Link
First Nations Development Institute - Thanksgiving: A Day of Mourning for Native Americans: Article Link
The Wampum Chronicles - Thanksgiving History and Perspectives: Website Link
Canadian Encyclopedia - Thanksgiving in Canada: Article Link
National Museum of the American Indian - Native Perspectives on Thanksgiving: Website Link
CBC News - Indigenous Perspectives on Thanksgiving: Article Link
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada - Calls to Action (Call to Action #75 focuses on education about Indigenous history): Website Link
Indigenous Canada - Online Course by the University of Alberta (Free Course): Course Link
I have used AI assistance to craft this post, incorporating my own thoughts and voice. The tools and strategies mentioned are ones that I genuinely use and have thoroughly vetted.
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Every individual's situation is unique, and the information presented here may not apply to everyone. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to consult with a medical professional or trusted healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis, guidance, and tailored support. Your well-being is of utmost importance, and seeking expert advice is crucial to ensure you receive the best care and support for your specific needs.