Thanksgiving was just another holiday for my family up north. When you live in a small, remote First Nation community, every day is an occasion to meet family. It is comforting to know that family is close by and that there is never a great need to bring people together. People have lots of opportunity to see each other daily during the year on walks around town, while shopping at the store or just by visiting a nearby neighbour.
I don’t think that very many people realize that there is an origin to Thanksgiving Day. I know that when I was growing up, Thanksgiving was just another holiday on the calendar, like Christmas or Halloween. I never gave the Thanksgiving holiday a second thought. When I was a young boy it was just a name for a day of the year that did not have much meaning to me or others around me. It was only recently that I learned about the history and meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The annual holiday is a traditional gathering in European cultures to celebrate the autumn harvest. Centuries ago, local farms were the main source of food for many cities and regions in Europe, so this annual celebration was important as a way of giving thanks for all the food that was harvested for the year. European travellers and explorers brought this tradition with them when they arrived in North America. The first recorded instance of a feast in the autumn was marked in Newfoundland during the expeditions of Martin Frobisher in the 1500s. This was a feast related to the traditional holidays marking the annual harvest in Europe. After this initial event in the New World, Thanksgiving holidays were held sporadically every year and at different times of the fall season. The traditional North American Thanksgiving holiday was made popular by the traditions of the early settlers in the United States who held a day of Thanksgiving for their harvest and health at the end of the year. These early events were held with local First Nation people who took part in the feast.
In this day and age, I think there is all the more reason to be thankful. It was not too long ago that a generation before me, my people had to live a very difficult life in order to survive. My parents’ and my grandparents’ generation led a nomadic lifestyle that followed the birds, animals and fish throughout the land. This was a difficult task and it was made even harder by the reality that the food supply fluctuated from year to year in periods of feast and famine. My parents reminded us often whenever we sat at the dinner table that eating a good meal was a luxury. When you think about it, a regular meal is still considered a luxury in many parts of the world. Many people are actually starving.
We have so many things to be thankful for. Transportation was such a difficult task for my people just a few decades ago. If you were considered wealthy and hard working, you might have had a dog team that could carry supplies over great distances. If you were less fortunate, you had to walk or snowshoe to get anywhere during the year. Even the materials that were used back then came from the land. All the wood for the sleds, snowshoes, canoes and all the bindings, ropes and parts that held these together came from the land or from the animals that were harvested. Now an outboard motor can carry a large 24-foot freighter canoe hundreds of kilometers in a matter of hours instead of days. A snowmobile can do the same and a car or truck on the winter road can do all this in great comfort.
Modern communications have also made life easier for all of us. We can find out anything about everything through the internet and the speed of communication is only getting faster. We can watch events taking place in any part of the world in the comfort of our home. Just fifty years ago, my people had little or no communication to the outside world. The only contact my people had were second hand accounts of a civilization to the south or through the squeaking static of a radio broadcast from Toronto or Chicago.
All these great things that have made our lives easier have also brought with them other troubles. In many ways we have neglected mother earth and that is now coming back to haunt us. There are also problems with addictions and substance abuse. I have had my share of troubles with addictions but I am grateful to have been able to find sobriety. I have to constantly remind myself that sobriety is one of the greatest things I can be grateful for. Without sobriety I would not be able to enjoy any of the other things I am thankful for and that includes being able to write this for you today. So thanks too for reading. Meegwetch.