A First Nations take on Thanksgiving: 'You're Welcome Weekend'
Kim and Jordan Wheeler don't celebrate Thanksgiving Day in their house. In their blended Cree/Ojibway/Mohawk/European-descended family they've come up with a new way to mark the holiday — something they call "You're Welcome Weekend."
Jordan: My Indigenous family celebrated Thanksgiving while I grew up. As an adult I’ve tried to avoid it but have typically faced opposition. Some traditions, even though not traditional die hard. Some people are intent on having their turkey, though one year we did switch it up with lobster.
Kim: Growing up my family always celebrated Thanksgiving. I grew up in an adoptive non-indigenous family. As a grown-up, I continued this tradition until I was in a relationship with a guy who could never make it on time. I gave up on cooking dinners like Thanksgiving.
Jordan: Why the reticence? Thanksgiving is a European creation rooted in traditions dating back to the Protestant Reformation and, for Canada, to a communion in Nunavut held by Martin Frobisher to give thanks to God for surviving the long journey from England. I’m only half European and I’m not Christian.
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Kim: It was my birth sister who first put the idea in my head about not celebrating Thanksgiving but it wasn’t until I started dating my husband, that I felt I had a legitimate reason not to cook Thanksgiving dinner anymore. What was the indigenous community thankful for in a time when schoolteachers had kids colouring pictures of pilgrims and making turkeys from outlines of their hands?
Like a lot of the history written about the First Peoples of Turtle Island, Thanksgiving needs an overhaul in the history books.- Kim Wheeler
Kim: Now we simply call it the “You're Welcome Weekend.” I wish I could say I came up with that but I actually stole it from Jordan who stole it from Columpa Bobb who probably stole it from someone else. Hmm, I’m sensing a theme around this whole October long weekend celebration.
Holidays are difficult to change. I wouldn’t want to take Thanksgiving away from those who celebrate one way or another. But like a lot of the history written about the First Peoples of Turtle Island, Thanksgiving needs an overhaul in the history books. Did you know Columbus never set foot in North America?
Jordan: Also part of the American tradition, which can’t help but bleed into the Canadian psyche, are the pilgrims and their relationship with the Wampanoag. The story of the pilgrims sitting down with the “friendly” Indians to share the bounty of the harvest are still presented in American schools.
sharing in the Indigenous community is a virtue. The sign of wealth is not how much you have but how much you give away. On paper we should be quadrillionaires.- Jordan Wheeler
Wampanoag’s most famous member, Squanto, did indeed teach the pilgrims how to fish and how to farm the land in their territory so they wouldn’t starve. In doing so Europeans were introduced for the first time to advanced agricultural techniques such as companion planting and crop rotation.
So sharing went beyond the food on the table, it extended to knowledge and technique. And sharing in the Indigenous community is a virtue. The sign of wealth is not how much you have but how much you give away. On paper we should be quadrillionaires.
Kim: Celebrating Thanksgiving in our now-blended Cree/Ojibway/Mohawk/European-descended family is like celebrating Easter in our non-Christian family. (Don’t get Jordan started on stores closing on Good Friday.)
We have tried to convince ourselves, when the kids beg us to cook turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy, et al., that it is really a harvest celebration. It is the end of the growing season, when we celebrate the end of one season and the beginning of another – but that didn’t quite work out either because the season changed a month earlier.
To roll all those daily thanks into one day of the year and think you have it covered? Too easy and convenient -- and people call “Indians” lazy!.- Jordan Wheeler
Jordan: The giving thanks I can understand. In my culture we give thanks every day. We thank Creator for allowing us to be on this Earth for another day. If we pick berries or hunt an animal we offer tobacco and give thanks for their sacrifice. Plants and animals aren’t commodities, they’re family. I don’t go around sprinkling tobacco at the super market but the daily intent remains. Thanks for the clean air I breath, thanks for the clean water I drink, thanks for my family’s good health.
But to roll all those daily thanks into one day of the year and think you have it covered? Too easy and convenient -- and people call “Indians” lazy!
Kim: So what will we do this weekend? Probably the same as every weekend: clean, work, golf (It’s supposed to be 16 C and sunny on Saturday), watch the Jets. Jordan’s oldest Cam has a birthday, so perhaps we’ll use that as an excuse to make a big dinner. My middle child had a small surgery this week and she is adamant she wants turkey. Perhaps she’ll settle for lobster.
Kim Wheeler is a writer and an award-winning producer living in Winnipeg. Her work on the CBC radio series ReVision Quest garnered a New York Festival silver medal and two ImagineNative awards. Wheeler is also an independent entertainment media consultant and manager whose clients include multi-award winning author Richard Wagamese.
Cree from the George Gordon First Nation, Jordan Wheeler is a Gemini Award winning scriptwriter who has been writing professionally since 1982. Among his fiction credits are Brothers In Arms, Just A Walk and Digital Ogichida and for television North of 60, The Rez and Arctic Air. Wheeler lives in Winnipeg with his wife Kim.