KENORA REFLECTION: Why give up Thanksgiving dinner?


21 August 2006

KENORA REFLECTION: Why give up Thanksgiving dinner?

by Andrew Cressman

I'm passing up the juicy, tasty Thanksgiving turkey this year. Why would I
do that? Well, reflecting on my experience on the July/August 2006 CPT
delegation to Kenora, it becomes apparent to me that what I have always seen
as a celebration of the bounty God has provided us is experienced very
differently by Aboriginal neighbours.

I grew up with the Thanksgiving story of early European settlers who were
kept alive by the generosity of the Aboriginal people for the first few
winters. That story feels good to me.

Sadly, the story does not end with the first few winters. In return for this
generosity, we have systematically stolen land, stolen culture, and stolen

With an understanding that the land belongs to the creator, Aboriginal
people made treaties with European settlers for the sharing of the land.
Europeans on the other hand staked claims of ownership, denying common use
of the land. Under British law, people native to a colonized land were
customarily given rights to land already used for agriculture. Being hunters
and gatherers, the Aboriginal population in Canada was not considered to
have claim to the land that provided their livelihood. The written English
version of Treaty 3, which applies to the region surrounding Kenora,
recognizes Aboriginal peoples' rights to small reserves of land to live on
and guarantees traditional land use rights in surrounding land "until such
time as the crown requires that land for development." However, Aboriginal
leaders were told they were agreeing to use of the land for as long as the
rivers flow. Meaning, one might reasonably conclude, forever.

We have not lived up to our bargain. We have passed laws preventing
Aboriginal participation in certain economic activities, such as garden
marketing in the early 1900's. We have placed Aboriginal children in
residential schools, depriving them of traditional knowledge and wisdom
until the 70's. We have poisoned rivers with mercury, destroying
self-sufficient Aboriginal commercial fisheries and causing great illness.

We can play the distancing game, saying, "This all happened so long ago, I'm
not responsible." Sadly, we continue to take advantage of Aboriginal
neighbours. Aboriginal trappers check their government licensed trap lines,
to find that government licensed logging companies have clear-cut the whole
area, destroying their livelihood.

The European occupation of North America has so deeply hurt the Aboriginal
people that it is no wonder some find Thanksgiving to be an occasion to fast
and mourn. To stand in solidarity with our Aboriginal friends, the members
of this delegation have committed to share this Thanksgiving fast and use
the occasion to reflect on our complicity in a system that perpetuates
injustice and broken relationships. We invite all who feel called to this
spiritual discipline to join us.

[Members of the 28 July-6 August delegation were Andrew Cressman (Toronto,
Ontario), Ellen Johnson Arginteanu (State College, Pennsylvania), Garland
Robertson (Austin, Texas) and Carol Rose and Carol Soderholm (both of
Chicago, Illinois.)