Those of us at Praxis, like most people, enjoy a long weekend away from work with more time for our families, however, as supporters and advocates for the rights of First Nations people we’ve been hesitant to celebrate Thanksgiving. We’ve been concerned that our celebration of gratitude had roots that came at a cost to the Indigenous population. It was time for some serious research.
The first documented “Thanksgiving” in Canada was in 1578 when English explorer Martin Frobisher celebrated his fleet’s safe return to Newfoundland after attempting to find the Northwest Passage. (The Northwest Passage wasn’t fully navigated until much, much later in the early 1900’s – Frobisher was merely celebrating that the fleet made it back to Newfoundland safely.) Feasts in Canada continued thereafter to celebrate and give thanks for the land that we call home, the food on our tables and the families that we love. Explorer Samuel de Champlain is known to have held massive meals with First Nations people to celebrate and give thanks. Thanksgiving became a national Holiday in 1879.
However, it is extremely evident that the celebration of Thanksgiving has deep roots in First Nations culture and in fact Thanksgiving is originally an Indigenous ceremony. In a recent CBC interview Brian Rice, an assistant professor in the department of religion at the University of Winnipeg and a member of the Mohawk nation said, "All of our ceremonies, all of the things that we do, have to do with giving thanks. So it's part of a continuum of something that's been practised for thousands of years." As far as First Nation celebrations of Thanksgiving in Canada go – it’s a divided issue with some celebrating Thanksgiving, others not celebrating anything and some celebrating their own made up holiday – in one family they call it: “Your Welcome Day.”
So, what to do at Praxis? By not acknowledging Thanksgiving we feel that we are ignoring the gift that First Nations people gave to us. Building on the idea of “Your Welcome Day” we are absolutely going to celebrate Thanksgiving as way to say thank you to the aboriginal people that can lay claim to the land that we live and work on. It is about gratitude and family ties and doing our best to build relationships. As an integral part of our Thanksgiving we chose to speak to our family about the gratitude we feel to be living in such a wonderful place with such abundance. We make sure that our children understand that the land on which we have our home and our office belongs to the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation.) We show our gratitude to First Nations people for the food, the land, the air and the water that feeds and supports us. So, Huy Chexw (thank you in Squamish) to all of those that came before us and gave us this place to be.