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Thanks Giving for Harvest or Celebration of Colonial Conquest?

The first official, annual Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated on 6 November 1879, though Indigenous peoples in Canada have a history of celebrating the fall harvest that predates the arrival of European settlers.

Potlatches and celebratory feasts were often held to celebrate a large hunt or harvest. Seasonal in nature, they were fluid events that occurred when the food was bountiful.

Indigenous peoples in North America have a history of holding communal feasts in celebration of the fall harvest that predates the arrival of European settlers.

The first Thanksgiving by Europeans in North America was held by Sir Martin Frobisher and his crew in the Eastern Arctic in 1578. …In 1606, in an attempt to prevent the kind of scurvy epidemic that had decimated the settlement at Île Ste. Croix in the winter of 1604–05, Samuel de Champlain founded a series of rotating feasts at Port Royal called the Ordre de Bon Temps (“Order of Good Cheer”). Local Mi’kmaq families were also invited. The first feast was held on 14 November 1606 to celebrate the return of Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt from an expedition.

This was 17 years before what is often recognized as the first American Thanksgiving — the Pilgrims’ celebration of their first harvest in Massachusetts in 1621.

The first national Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated in the Province of Canada in 1859 [and] appropriated [from] the holiday of American Thanksgiving, which was first observed in 1777.

Now this all sounds fine and dandy. A bunch of celebratory feasts, what is the danger in that?

The American history is much more tainted, and Canada is no Saint when it comes to Colonization efforts.

The Following is from Ronald Trosper, professor of American Indian studies at the University of Arizona, who gave a presentation titled “The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving” as part of Native American History Month in 2017. The event, sponsored by the Native American Student Association, discussed Thanksgiving and its ties to settler colonialism.

1. Different ‘thanks’

“When Indians harvested, the thanks went to the land and the beings that provided themselves as food. That’s a very fundamental indigenous belief, that we thank those beings that support our livelihood,” Trosper says. “Then at dinner there was no prayer, they just started eating. They already thanked the land when they harvested. And they did not thank the Lord for providing the food, because the food came from the land, it did not come from the Christian God. At Thanksgiving, people celebrate the Christian God.”

Native Americans did not pray to a Christian God, although the settlers would try to change that. One of the characteristics of settler colonialism is the settlers’ attempt to convert indigenous peoples to the settlers’ religion. The settlers, who had left England due to religious dissension, brought their religion with them to the New World.

From Lincoln’s proclamation to modern-day traditions, many Americans view Thanksgiving as a day to give thanks for their blessings, often in the form of a pre-feast religious prayer. In contrast, many Native Americans did, and still do, celebrate the fall harvest.

2. False friendship

“A lot of people have put forth images of what Thanksgiving is really about, seeming to say that Natives were welcoming the settlers and providing them food. Well, they were generous and they did provide food, but it was not reciprocated,” Trosper says.

“Eventually in New England, where Thanksgiving was said to be, the settlers pushed the Indians aside. That’s where people lose the history. They don’t know about King Philip’s War.”

After the initial Thanksgiving feast, tensions rose between the settlers and indigenous peoples and reached a breaking point by 1675, resulting in King Philip’s War. Spanning three years, the conflict raged throughout New England, destroying 12 towns and almost completely destroying the Wampanoag tribe and their allies, the Narragansett tribe from Rhode Island.

“The settlers arrive, take control of the land, and push the indigenous people off, and often they just eliminate. It’s not a question of sharing the land,” Trosper says, pointing to another characteristic of settler colonialism.

“Very often the indigenous people said, ‘We’re happy to share the land with you if you accept our sovereignty over it and if you take care of it the way we want you to take care of it.’ But that wasn’t part of the picture.”

3. Stolen land and lives

Another characteristic of settler colonialism is the settlers adopting a means of making a living that they have learned from the indigenous peoples. In the case of the Pilgrims and Indians, that was agriculture.

“Thanksgiving shows pictures of Indians providing food to the settlers. That illustrates there were people on the land and farming the land,” Trosper says. “Here in Arizona when the settlers came, the area around the Gila River was agricultural and the Pima Indians were providing food that they raised in their farms. They expanded their agriculture when the settlers arrived.”

In the late 19th century, settlers dammed the Gila River and diverted the water from the Indians’ farms to their own. Without life-giving water to sustain their crops, Native American communities were impoverished and their reservations had little water.

“On Thanksgiving, the settlers are celebrating the land and what the land produces, and how did they get that land? They took it,” Trosper says. “Thanksgiving seems to be a celebration of taking the land away.”

In addition to losing their land, Native Americans often paid a large price in human life, as well.

You can only imagine, the trauma that comes with this “holiday”. Settlers in North America are literally celebrating their dominion over the Indigenous Peoples of this land.

Mention Thanksgiving on a Reserve or around Indigenous people and you may get some snarky comments about how “It’s not a celebration for everyone”. I’ve heard this happen mid conversation to a Caucasian who meant no harm and was just asking about everyone’s dinner plans for that particular long weekend. Some people just have a chip on their shoulder about it. Some are legitimately offended by the holiday. Others have moved on.

My good friend Chrissie started a conversation on Facebook, asking her friends about their perspectives on this holiday. Chrissie is Indigenous and is great at starting these powerful conversations on tough subjects. Sometimes we just need a little push to look inside ourselves and really consider our thoughts on the subject.

I asked a few of her friends if I could share their responses. Keokina had responded to Chrissie by saying “Traditional food it will be, thankful that we have something to harvest from the land”. This goes STRAIGHT back to the beginning of my post. The true origins of this holiday. To be thankful and enjoy the fruits of our labour. Food that has been grown, gathered or hunted to feed our families.

Cory looks at the positive side of history “A celebration of Kous (Indigenous Peoples) saving the Mumalthnee (Literally “People who live on ships with no land” aka Europeans) from starving and perishing”. He elaborated that he knows “there’s more history towards this but we were and always will be known as a giving Peoples!” I really respect the power of this statement. To rise up and acknowledge that the way Indigenous People’s were treated was wrong, but the intention of the first Thanksgiving meals was still positive and to remember that without dismissing the rest of history. The connection to modern times is completely accurate – Have you ever been to a Potlatch? These elaborate celebrations occur still today with great feasts and gifts given away to those in attendance. To be Kous is to be Generous.

I am hoping other’s give me permission to share their words too. There are some powerful thoughts in the thread.

My own views on the holiday became more complicated when I moved to Ahousaht. As a child, Thanksgiving was one more holiday to gather as family, to eat good food and take turns sharing what we were thankful for before we began to eat. In University I always tried to travel home for the event. Once I moved to Ahousaht, it became harder to make the journey, but now Lennie and I have started our own celebrations each year.

We haven’t gone so far as to have a traditional Indigenous meal (salmon, deer and elk are a normal meal ingredient in our home), but in the future I see us producing our own chicken or turkey to eat. Self sustainability at it’s best.

Lennie and I use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to spend the day together cooking, collaborating, getting dressed up and having quality time together. In today’s go-go-go society, this time can be hard to come by and taking a day to relax and enjoy good food together is important. Often we invite family or friends to join us, but sometimes it is good to just bond with each other too. Especially this year. We have been through a lot.

On Thanksgiving I acknowledge the wrongs that were done to Indigenous People during colonization.  I don’t think about it only on Thanksgiving, the holiday that seems to symbolize the European invasion, but all year long.

Whatever motivation is behind our Thanksgiving Dinner, I hope we can all be mindful of others. Of the Indigenous Nations who are the rightful caretakers of this land, who have been pushed aside for far too long. It’s time to recognize the damages that have been done and continue to make steps to reconcile.

How do you feel about Thanksgiving?

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Our Homesteading Dream

I’ve written and deleted a few posts today. They all seemed to whiny. I am not sure what is with the funk I am feeling today. Something in the air I guess. I’m probably still just frustrated that the mountain of laundry back at home STILL has not been folded and put away! I also think when I try too hard to be philosophical my writing is trash anyways.

It’s no secret that Lennie and I are working on a plan to move off-grid to the Yarksis Village site, home of Keltsmaht Nation, on Vargas Island. The more disillusioned I become with society, the more desperate I am to make the move.

This summer we completed step one of our plan, clearing land and choosing a rough site for our cabin to be situated. This Autumn we will return to the site to burn the brush we cleared and watch for water pooling. It’s clear that water sits in some areas of the land, but we’re not sure exactly where or how much depending on rainfalls. We will keep an eye on this over the winter and adjust our plans as needed before building in the late spring/early summer.

It was hard this year for Lennie to take enough days off work to fully support the work that needs to be done. We have come to realize we will both need to dedicate weeks at a time to the construction of our home and put work aside until things get done.

One of our primary purposes to making this huge lifestyle change is to live more authentically in Nature and live a lifestyle more aligned with our values. Culturally, this land is very significant. Lennie’s father comes from Keltsmaht Nation and he built a cabin near the site we are building in an effort to keep a claim to the land when the Canadian Government tried to reclaim the Reserve for “not being used”. Murray John had always had a vision of an ecotourism company being run from the site. Lennie has built on that by hoping to also create a place of healing and education for all People to come and use.

We hope to be as self sustaining as possible when we move to Yarksis. We will collect rainwater and use solar energy. The water supply in Yarksis has always been poor, even being cited for being one of the reasons behind the amalgamation of Ahousaht and Keltsmaht Nations. The creek at the West end of the beach was historically able to support it’s own salmon run. With natural and unnatural damming having occurred over the years, it now faces low oxygen levels and warm waters that are unable to sustain fish life. One of our goals is to restore this creek and hopefully a salmon run as well! Those changes may be enough to make it a more viable water resource for ourselves as well.

We will cook with propane and fire. We will preserve foods through canning and dehydrating. We will garden. We will wild forage foods from the land and sea. We will have a refrigerator, but hope not to rely on it too much. We will have our dogs and cat, bunnies and chickens all join us. We hope to add goats. One day we would love cows. It’s all been done there before. With my farming background I hope we can be successful at it.

Wolves and bears and cougars all call the island home. Just as they do around the rest of Vancouver Island. We will fence to keep them out and hope to avoid human-wildlife or wildlife-livestock conflicts through over preparedness.

Yarksis is much closer to Tofino than Ahousaht, but we will not have dock access at our beach site. Currently we have to do beach landings to get there. Our neighbours at Cedar Coast Field Station are building a dock that can raise out of the water in high winds and storms. We will be able to use that from time to time, but it’s a bit of a (short) hike over, if we are carrying large amounts of supplies. It will be easier to do large supply runs at a high tide and land the boat on the beach still.

We are very excited for this move. It will be the first time anyone has lived at the site full time in closer to 75 years. Families camp there every summer still, but we plan on going a step further and making this our full-time home. Culture and Tradition will all be coming alive again through this project and we are so excited to make it reality!

Reconciliation in a Colonial World

If you live in Canada, you have likely heard the word “reconciliation” thrown around a lot in the past few years. Some nod their head in agreement, others scoff with derision. “It wasn’t me”, they say. “Why should I atone for things other people did?” Because that is what reconciliation is. To reconcile, you need to admit there was a problem. That there IS a problem. That our colonial system continues to oppress Indigenous Peoples in Canada and our silence firmly puts us at fault too.

So use your voice! Speak! Become an ally to those who are pushed aside and unjustly let down time and time again.

I grew up in the Cowichan Valley. There is a strong Indigenous presence within the community. I had classmates from the reserve. I got to know youth my age. Youth who were surely victims of inter-generational trauma due to residential schools. I carved and painted alongside them on a totem pole created by my high school with a master carver from Cowichan Nation. I had an appreciation for their culture, and through that, a vague understanding of the historical atrocities they had been subjected to. But I did not know the full extent of what the Canadian Government and the Church was guilty of.

Throughout my teenage years, my family volunteered at monthly community dinners. I remember being very aware of the much higher volume of Indigenous patrons, than any other Ethnicity. “Why?” I asked.

Residential Schools were explained to me in more detail then. The trauma and abuse. The disrespect over the years which had, in a way, broken the pride of these families. Others in the community may have been in just as much need as the ones who did come sit down for a free meal, but pride kept them shuttered in at home. Choosing to be cold and hungry than to ask for help.

This stuck with me for all the years since. How could a Nation’s pride be broken so severely? Why? How?

It was all part of the Canadian Government’s plan to “kill the Indian in the child“. It almost worked. But these Nations are rising again. We can help them. Reconciliation. Admit what happened was wrong. Have Empathy. Build. Strengthen. Grow.

I attended the University of Victoria and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Education in 2014. One of the required programs for teachers at UVic is “Indigenous Education”, taught by an Indigenous community member. We cover Residential Schools, the potlatch bans, modern culture, and even Indigenous Sports and games. It astounded me how few of my classmates knew anything about Residential Schools. Most had no clue. Until VERY recently, this era of Canadian History was not mentioned in Canadian grade schools. Those teachers who did know about it were afraid to broach the subject. How do you teach a subject so large and so sensitive with so few resources?

Currently, as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, all Provinces and Territories include information about Residential Schools in their curriculum, but it is not mandatory, nor is the coverage extensive. We need to continue to push this as a priority across Canada. No one will care about something they don’t even know happened. Our Youth are the Future, but the change must start with us.

When I graduated, I specifically looked for jobs in First Nations schools in remote parts of the coast. I applied in Kingcome Inlet and Ahousaht. Teachers in these remote communities are expected to participate in cultural events. What an honour to even be able to witness such things, after the strong efforts by the Government to smother them out.

I moved to Ahousaht in the summer of 2014. Here I was able to witness and encounter the very raw and real trauma from Residential Schools in modern times. I talked with survivors. People say Residential School is old history. Get over it. Do they realize the survivors walk among us? The last school closed in 1996. That was during my lifetime!

When Lennie and I started dating. He had rules for me. In any other scenario, I would have “Noped” my way right out of there. But I knew there was a deeper reason behind it. I wasn’t allowed to touch him in certain ways. A hand on his shoulder makes him jump at times. The echoes of horror still ring in his head. He has many humorous stories of his time at Christie Residential School – a testament to his ever-present troublemaker personality. But the other stories aren’t shared as easily. They bring me to tears. Every time I hear them, a part of me dies again. MY CULTURE did this to him. So yes, I am responsible. We all are. But our actions today can be our redemption.

I didn’t gain a complete understanding of the scope of the Cultural Genocide Canada committed until I was fully engulfed in the culture of an Indigenous Community. I had to live in Ahousaht and truly know the people to have this perspective. You can’t just stay for a weekend and talk to a few people here and there. You need to sit and listen and get to know the community.

Active listening is something we are all taught in school, but I swear, in this time of smartphones and headphones, we forget how to really listen.

“Active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening – otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener. Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this ‘feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly.”

If you ever get the chance to talk to a Survivor, their family or their offspring, LISTEN. Hear their stories. Hear how they are impacted. Hear how the system is still stacked against them.

To me, Reconciliation is acknowledging the wrongs that were done, and recognizing your place in the greater community that committed these atrocities. Reconciliation is having the empathy and respect to listen to Indigenous Peoples and how they are still affected, today, due to these traumas. Reconciliation is spreading the word, joining movements and supporting initiatives to move Indigenous Peoples forward at a pace and in a direction, THEY want to move.

To become a better ally, follow the steps of Reconciliation above. Learn whose Traditional Territory you live in. Talk with members from the Nation. Visit their Administration Office and ask to learn more – Maybe they have programs you can attend – Language, arts, dance. I am sure they would welcome you with open arms if your heart is in the right place.

Listen with an open heart and open mind. It’s hard to go wrong from there.

~~~~
I would like to graciously thank my friend Zan who posed the questions of What reconciliation means to me? and How can Non-Indigenous community members become better Indigenous Allies? I really appreciate the chance to write out my thoughts on the matter.

For those interested in further information, I urge you to check out the following websites:

Beyond 94

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

First Contact (Ahousaht is featured in one of the episodes!)

MacLeans Residential School Article

Indigenous Foundations

We Are The Children

Canada’s Dark Secret

National Post Residential School Article

Ahousaht in Bloom

Last fall I received a Neighbourhood Small Grant for a flower planting project in the village of Ahousaht. This spring, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the organization who awarded the grants in our region, was given a grant of their own to film the results of the grants within our area. I was asked to attend the film premiere and possibly speak about our project in Ahousaht.

Ahousaht is a small village. Our population sits around 1000 people. There is no road access as we are on a small island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s about a 35 minute boat ride from Tofino, on a good day. Weather systems regularly impact our travel and shut down boats. There are no grocery stores, though some essentials are stocked across the harbour at the “general store” and fuel dock. Few shop there regularly though.

We have enough of a youth population to have our own schools – Both an Elementary and High School. Most teachers are from other areas and stay for 2 or 3 years. The high turnover creates an inconsistent environment for students. However, we have several teachers that have stayed for years now, and are beginning to have more locally trained and certified teachers available!

A doctor visits the village 4 days a week and health nurses about 3 days of the week. Any medical emergencies or appointments outside of the doctor’s regular hours requires travel to Tofino or a larger city. In some severe weather, our water taxis are unable to make emergency trips and at times the Coast Guard has come in to transport patients to the hospital.

Everything takes just a little more effort in Ahousaht.

In general, that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe that goes with this location. But there’s one area where I can’t accept a delay in help, transportation hang-ups and lack of service – Mental Health supports. I can’t accept that we only have a counsellor available once a week, and a clinical psychologist once a month (I might be wrong, this is just what I understand at this time). I despise the fact that there are no formal after hour supports for mental health crisis. Not everyone has a landline to call a crisis support hotline. None of this is Ahousaht’s fault though. These services are government funded and are limited based on remoteness and population size. Remote, Indigenous populations tend to be more vulnerable to mental health issues, however, and the services are needed more than ever in these distant areas.

Recently we had a series of meetings with various officials and it sounds like we may be getting an increase in services. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least people are listening. In the future, perhaps more local residents can be trained and employed in these fields within our community.

But, back to the flowers….

I wanted a way to help. To improve mental health without getting wrapped up in the politics of available services. Flowers have been shown to improve mental health and the simple act of gardening does as well. I wanted to encourage people to garden in their own backyards and provide some colour in a public space that the community would see on a regular basis. I received permission to plant daffodil and crocus bulbs in a grassy area between the school gym and the road. It’s a high traffic area that will expose the flowers to many community members.

The key to dealing with a lack of mental health services is to not need them in the first place. That means we need to deal with prevention rather than responding as crisis’ arrive. Gardening is just one way to help prevent mental health crisis and it is by no means a cure-all. But it helps. Seeing the smiling faces of children working with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, I knew a small difference had been made. And when spring arrived and those same families were planting flowers in their yard, I knew an even bigger change had been made. Each year it will multiply and grow, like the bulbs we planted along the road.

My goal is to get all of Ahousaht in Bloom. I started a Facebook page to arrange workshops, share educational information and inspire others to garden. I hope to create a flower planter next grant season near the community hall or Administration building. It saddens me that you can’t see a single flower from these areas. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were always flowers in view, no matter where you were? 17426327_1814144082172130_1733531300813175870_n

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