Thanksgiving is a national holiday that highlights colonialism and the mistreatment of Indigenous people
Thanksgiving was almost canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was celebrated this Monday, Oct. 12. The federal government has made it clear that gatherings during Thanksgiving weren’t a good idea, and to limit contact.
“This coming weekend for Thanksgiving and for the weeks to come, we need people to do everything they can to prevent transmission of this virus,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in regards to the holiday, asking people to stay home.
But it wasn’t the first time the legitimacy of the holiday was questioned. For several years now there has been a moral debate regarding the celebration of Thanksgiving.
As Gilbert Mercier, a French journalist would illustrate, “In many ways, the … celebration of Thanksgiving is analogous to setting aside a day in Germany to celebrate the Holocaust.”
Thanksgiving was established by a proclamation of the Canadian Parliament in 1957 as a statutory holiday. It is at first glance a chance to celebrate the good harvest and all the blessings received throughout the year. But beyond feasts and celebrations with family and friends, the holiday’s story is less joyful.
The first colonists had trouble surviving on the new continent, and some Indigenous people offered their knowledge of the territories to help them. It was the case of Martin Frobishor and other navigators who arrived in 1578 to the Baffin Island and to whom the Mi’kmaq men taught ice-fishing techniques.
It wasn’t long before the relations turned disastrous, and the colonists decided to take possession of the lands by violating treaties, and exterminating Indigenous peoples. A war exploded over Halifax because the Mi’kmaq never agreed to give away their territories to the British settlers. In response, Governor Edward Cornwallis, who established the Nova Scotia colony, offered a bonus for every Indigenous person killed.
For many, colonists did significant harm.
The media outlet Cut released a video in 2015 asking Native Americans to associate Christopher Columbus with one word. Their answers were among others, “evil,” “invader,” “ignorant,” “genocide”— words that could also describe Edward Cornwallis.
A Day of Mourning for Indigenous people
For many Indigenous people, Thanksgiving marks the starting point of the smothering of their culture and the theft of their lands, and therefore many are not celebrating the arrival of the European settlers. Being aware of the history of the holiday, some non-indigenous people also choose to not celebrate it in solidarity.
It is a day some use to protest systematic racism and oppression.
Last Sunday, about 20 people met in downtown Montreal in regards to the upcoming holiday for Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage.
Indigenous people are still fighting today to recover their sovereignty and their rights to their lands, which have never been ceded.