November 27, 2003

by Tricia Brown

The light of two candles played on the walls of the Roundhouse as people
wandered in and huddled around the woodstove for heat. The green scent of
sawdust rose from the ground, lacing the frigid air with the promise of
spring life. Over the course of an hour, the room filled with about thirty
bodies--Anishnaabe residents of Grassy Narrows, and their CPT supporters.
We snacked on dense, soft bannock (fry bread) and tea as the "Blockade
Meeting" began.

All those at the meeting shared the floor, expressing their convictions
about protecting their traditional lands and treaty rights. A spirit of
strength and resistance was palpable as residents of Grassy Narrows spoke
of blocking further efforts by corporations or the Ministry of Natural
Resources to usurp their land. About half the conversation was in Ojibwa,
and though the unfamiliar words swirled around me mysteriously, the
commitment in people's voices evoked excitement. I felt privileged to be
invited to the momentous meeting, warmed by the hospitality of our
Anishnaabe friends, and inspired by the "undoing" that was taking place
before me - the slow undoing of decades of white hegemony and
oppression. One man infused the gathering with intensity and determination
reminding them: "It is your land, your treaty, your rights." "You are a
sovereign nation," he said, "not a business interest."

This year I am spending Thanksgiving in Grassy Narrows. I cannot think of
any place I would rather be. I remember the Indian-and-Pilgrim Thanksgiving
myth I heard repeated every year as a schoolkid in America. The myth
painted a picture of harmony and intercultural exchange, and of mutual
sharing between neighbors. We were taught that Thanksgiving was a time to
thank God for the gifts of our rich land and, as implied by the myth, for
the hospitable welcome given us white people upon arrival to our "new"
country many years ago. Little did I know, as a child, the rest of the
story--of massacres, forced relocations followed by famine and
disease, two-faced treaties, cultural genocide, resource theft, residential
schools. Now that I know these things, the myth is a heap of straw.

But this year my Thanksgiving will be spent in Grassy Narrows. I will
celebrate the holiday by attending a square-dance on the reserve, by
sharing a meal with Anishnaabe friends, and by giving thanks. I will give
thanks for the swell of nonviolent resistance and hope in this place, for
the patient undoing of systemic violence, and for glimpses of the justice
and truth-telling of God's coming reign which are evident here. I will
give thanks for the love shown to me, a white North American, by First
Nations friends in Grassy Narrows-- despite everything.