Indigenous people in Ottawa want to reclaim Thanksgiving Day, Columbus Day

It’s been a movement in many American jurisdictions, and now people in Ottawa’s indigenous community want to reclaim Thanksgiving Day, also known as the American holiday Columbus Day.

Seattle and Minneapolis renamed the American holiday Columbus Day as 'Indigenous Peoples' Day'

Drummers perform at the first "Indigenous Resistance Day" at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre in Ottawa on Oct. 10, 2015. (CBC Ottawa)

It's a movement in many American jurisdictions, and now people in Ottawa's indigenous community want to reclaim Thanksgiving Day — also known as Columbus Day in the United States — to honour the cultures that existed in the Americas long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

The Odawa Native Friendship Centre held an "Indigenous Resistance Day" on Saturday, with a potluck, film screenings, music, and discussions.

Celebrating 'resistance and resilience'

"It started off as kind of an anti-Columbus Day, but what we wanted to do was to have more relationships and dialogue with indigenous people from across Turtle Island, across the Americas," said Odawa president Christopher Wong.

Thanksgiving's a traditional day for indigenous people as a celebration of harvest.- Odawa Native Friendship Centre president Christopher Wong

"People [like] our Mayan and Aztec brothers, indigenous people from up north, Cree, Ojibway, Haudenosaunee, and just get them celebrate our resistance and resilience for surviving the last 500 years together," he added.

U.S. cities like Seattle and Minneapolis have recently renamed the American holiday Columbus Day as "Indigenous Peoples' Day" to recognize the indigenous people that lived in the Americas at the time of Christopher Columbus's arrival in 1492, when he was credited for "discovering" the so-called "New World".

That holiday falls on the same day as Canada's Thanksgiving Day, and Wong believes it's a good opportunity for people on both sides of the border to recognize Indigenous cultures.

"Thanksgiving's a traditional day for indigenous people as a celebration of harvest," Wong said. "And we wanted to reclaim the harvest aspect of it."

Recognizing the cultures that historically thrived here before Columbus is important for Tito Medina, who's Maya-Mestizo and originally from Guatemala.

Morgan Hare (left) and Christopher Wong (middle) are part of the Odawa Native Friendship Centre. Tito Medina (right) came to Ottawa from Guatemala in 2003. (Waubgeshig Rice)
"We have over 25,000 years of building our culture," said Medina.

Medina, his wife, and their two young daughters came to Ottawa as refugees in 2003, and soon found a home among the city's indigenous community.

Medina regularly shares songs and stories from his culture at community events.

"We are so grateful that we developed these kinds of links, and then to learn about the situation of the First Nations people here," he said.

'Not about blaming each other'

Saturday's Odawa event brought together people from different indigenous and non-indigenous backgrounds. The hope was to start discussions about history and culture, in order to create a positive sense of community here in Ottawa.

"It's not about blaming each other, but we talk about dignity, respect, love, compassion," said Medina. "We need to know that after all these centuries, First Nations all across the continent have paid a big price in poverty, marginalization, genocide that is still happening."

Wong believes the weekend gathering — which he hopes to make an annual event — offers the perfect opportunity to share at an important time of the year.

"Coming together as a community, reestablishing family ties and relationships, and getting ready for the winter," he said. "In the same spirit, we want to invite all community members to come out and celebrate and prepare for the winter together."