Thanksgiving: Thanks, Giving, or Neither?
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends who celebrate the season, and happy Monday to those who don’t.
Today, on this special holiday edition, we weave together the thoughts and reflections of two of our writers, one Indigenous and one non-Indigenous. We hope to prompt you, dear readers, to think about the way in which we celebrate holidays in Canada. In the spirit of our theme Truth before Reconciliation, we ask how the truth about these celebrations shapes the holiday stories we tell ourselves and how those stories shape the society we live in.
For some, Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks for life and the gifts it provides. For others, it’s about sharing what we have
with family, friends, and community in a feast and renewal of relationships reminiscent of potlatches. Wikipedia tells us that Thanksgiving was first celebrated in Canada in 1579 by the Frobisher expedition when Martin Frobisher and his team thanked God for surviving their journey to Baffin Island. Wikipedia also ties it to a European religious celebration, the harvest festival. In any case, it is hard to ignore Thanksgiving’s deep roots in colonial tradition.
The stories of Frobisher’s journey to Baffin Island and the harvest festival are stories of colonialism. Frobisher journeyed from England to mine the Northern lands for what he thought was gold. He was a harbinger of European explorers and settlers who saw Indigenous land as rightly theirs. The harvest festival celebrates the bounty of the earth, which became a harvest of land taken from Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Consequently, the history of Thanksgiving is intimately connected to the erasure of Indigenous people from their land and displacement from their homefires.
It is difficult to talk about thankfulness and giving in a country that still feels the effects of the intergenerational injustice caused by erasure and displacement, where one in four First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people live in poverty. It seems counterintuitive to give thanks for the bounty of the land when Indigenous people are at least five times more likely to face homelessness than their non-Indigenous peers.
And yet, we celebrate. Not knowing why, or perhaps not willing to know why.
As our country looks towards Truth and Reconciliation, we recognize that “truth" is two-fold: it requires that we give truth a voice and be willing to hear it. All of us. We must be ready to hear other people's truth, reflect upon our own truths, and be prepared to unlearn a lifetime of conditioning that drowned out one People's truth to celebrate another's.
So, on this day of Thanksgiving, we give voice to the truth that this holiday celebrates the erasure and displacement of Indigenous peoples. We acknowledge that our country has silenced that truth and yet celebrates the one-sided benefits of that truth. We consider the ongoing intergenerational injustices inflicted upon Indigenous people as a result of erasure and displacement. We commit to uncovering further truths, as silent and deeply hidden as they may be. Most importantly, we hope that you, dear reader, reflect upon the ways in which you benefit from Treaty, Indigenous land, and Indigenous erasure. We hope that you consider the truth that the Thanksgiving you know celebrates a colonial past that perpetuates the systemic inequalities of today. Perhaps then we can begin to challenge the harms of colonialism.
Only then will the words “Thanks” and “Giving” be felt by those who have walked this land since time immemorial, and not just those who benefit from the bounties of the land we now know.
Until next time,
Photography by Alana Kiwetin
Artwork Mural by Lance Cardinal
 “Thanksgiving (Canada)” (5 October 2021), online: Wikipedia: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving_(Canada)>.
 James H. Marsh, Daniel Panneton, “Sir Martin Frobisher” (2 January 2008, last updated 28 January 2018) online: Canadian Encyclopedia <https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sir-martin-frobisher>.
 Citizens for Public Justice, “On the Margins: a glimpse of poverty in Canada” (October, 2015) online (pdf): Citizens for Public Justice <https://cpj.ca/wp-content/uploads/On-The-Margins.pdf> at 3.
 Jalene Tayler Anderson & Damian Collins, “Prevalence and Causes of Urban Homelessness Among Indigenous Peoples: A Three-Country Scoping Review” (2014) 29:7 Housing Studies 959 at 963.