It's Canadian Thanksgiving today, and this year I really got to thinking about the origins of our day of gratitude.
Recently I've also noticed that at many public events I have been to in my city lately, the speaker includes a statement in their intro to recognize that the location is on unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. I started to wonder, what exactly does that mean?
According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, the first thanksgiving in all of North America, was in 1578 on what is now Kodlunarn Island in Frobisher Bay. It was held by Sir Martin Frobisher and his crew of explorers, giving thanks for their safe arrival to North America. This was in line with societal practices in England starting with the first mention in 1533, and continued each fall giving thanks for bountiful harvests.
This continued "unofficially" until the first "official" Thanksgiving on November 6, 1879. In 1957, the holiday was moved to the second Monday in October.
Now, our First Nations people had also been celebrating their own harvests long before the arrival of European settlers.
So clearly, we have all been being very thankful. The question in celebrating this holiday by European settlers in North America of course, comes with the treatment of our First Nations people thereafter. This brings me to the point of the unceded territory.
Unceded refers to something that was never given up through treaty, war or surrender.
That's an important thing for us to all understand. This article from March 2016 in the Megaphone, explains this quite well and gives great views from all perspectives. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but here are some highlights from the article:
In response to a question as to whether this acknowledgement regarding the status of the land should worry current landowners, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip replied “I certainly don’t see it that way. I welcome it as an expression of acknowledgement and respect. No one I know looks at it any other way. For those people that are so regressive and so backward, that they will lose sleep over a greeting, a protocol that speaks to respect … well, history is marching over them.”
Not everyone sees it that way of course, and understandably so. Musqueam activist Audrey Siegl called the words empty, but also said “I believe most people here want to be part of the healing, and connect with First Nations, they define themselves as allies, because they realize they are on someone else’s land."
Dr Sarah Hunt, assistant professor of critical indigenous geographies in the department of First Nations and Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia, and a Kwagiulth person with ancestry from Tsaxis, further explains the importance of the clear acknowledgement and recognition.
What resonated with me the most was a statement again by Chief Phillip:
“We believe that the land, the water, the environment is what sustains all life. We simply can’t continue with rampant exploitation of the land, because there are consequences—global warming, climate change.
“I absolutely believe that embracing indigenous people and indigenous values is going to serve all of us in the long run, in terms of developing a sustainable approach to resource development, which we desperately need.”
I'm a first generation Canadian with roots in the United Kingdom. I grew up and spent most of my school age years in a small town in a neighbourhood beside our First Nations Reserve. Prior to that I lived in an even more rural area, wild and in the woods.
Nature and the environment has always been a huge part of my own soul. I spent countless hours walking the forest trails and playing in the river near our home.
At school we were so fortunate to have First Nations leaders come and teach us history and stories and show us how to create traditional First Nations works of art. If I close my eyes I can so vividly see the picture of a stakaya (wolf) I so proudly drew and hung on our fridge for a long time. The wolf is a symbol of family and togetherness, and I can't think of one more fitting.
Each one of us are guests on this land, on this planet. We all need to take care of it - and each other - together - with respect and acknowledgement of the past and a conscious commitment for our future.