This month, many of our communities celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in some shape or form. It’s something we’ve observed our whole lives, since it’s an annual holiday. We’re asked to consider what we’re thankful for and to think back on our shared history as colonizers. And, of course, to enjoy the Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, and gravy. But it’s clear that we need to get serious about decolonizing Thanksgiving.
This year, SOS Children’s Village BC asked our staff and communities to consider a different approach. We’re aware of the situation with children in care in BC and how the majority of these children are Indigenous. The children we protect and love in our Village come from cultures and histories where their livelihood was stripped away. They were limited from resources that nourished their families, and were introduced – and forced – into non-traditional foods by colonizers. As a result, their health and wellbeing were impacted, which included decimating their population and in turn their presence and voices in Canadian history.
Resources And Actions
Before October 12th, SOS BC asked how can we as an organization participate in reshaping what this holiday means? We wanted to put the focus on truth and reconciliation and try to move this into action through decolonizing our Thanksgiving practice. Therefore, we came up with a list of resources/actions to support these efforts and inform our staff:
- Participate in a new recipe book. We challenged our staff and community to come up with a recipe that only uses regional ingredients. A recipe book is a great way to make sure we highlight ingredients that are local to our living environment. We asked our staff to use this recipe for their Thanksgiving celebrations in order to spread awareness to their personal networks.
- Purchase and become aware of Indigenous cookbooks. SOS BC introduced a number of cookbooks to our team at the Village and head office. We wanted these books to inspire individuals to reconsider their approach to cooking – to share and teach their peers about changing how we look at regional and Indigenous foods.
- Shift our thinking. Historically, cultures all over the world celebrate this time of the year due to the changing season, the harvesting of food with winter around the corner, and the unpredictability cold months can bring. These events brought people together and gave opportunity for support, care, and planning for the months ahead. In some cultures individuals were recognized and feelings were expressed in a multitude of ways, like in the form of gifts. My personal favourite is the gift of food! We asked staff to consider these perspectives, to share their thoughts with peers and family, and to consider why we come together at this time of year. These practices came from a time where food and survival were not abundant. So what are we really giving thanks for these days? What are we really thankful for this season?
Resources For A Mindful Approach to Food
- Food resources for First Nations in BC. We provided resources from the First Nation Health Authority that guides First Nations communities on how to harvest food from natural land sources local to each First Nation. Another resource provided a breakdown of recommendations on how to eat healthy and introduce traditional foods into meal planning. However, I want to strongly point out that these are for First Nations communities and only for our awareness as non-Indigenous individuals. We encouraged our staff to read and learn how Indigenous populations utilize the land as nourishment.
- Be mindful of our approach to regional food. It’s important that we consider our approach to ‘traditional’ foods. Because, we have to ask: traditional to who? As trends pick up on eating local, Carmen, our educational lead, brought to my attention how it can create a negative effect on the communities that depend on these foods. Staff had to consider how else they can eating local without impacting the livelihood of the Indigenous people whose traditional territories we exist on. For instance, some island communities know what times to harvest, at which beaches. They do not want to over-pick or take too much from the environment in order to sustain it for future use. Elders often keep this knowledge as the environment ebbs and flows. So would it be appropriate for an individual to take from these areas? To forage and harvest in areas where other communities rely on its livelihood?
The resources above provided insight into what kinds of foods we can introduce into our diets that don’t impact First Nations. Because, they can be sourced through local grocery stores.
What You Can Do
Moving forward, here are some suggestions on how you can engage in decolonizing next Thanksgiving in positive and appropriate ways:
- Build your own garden/forage area where you grow local Indigenous plants, vegetables, and fruit that are native to the land you’re on.
- Talk to your local First Nation about if and when you’re able to harvest/forage on their land. Seek to learn from them, and give to them, in exchange for the knowledge. If there are public places to harvest/forage, seek information on how to do so in a manner that does not harm the environment and those that depend on it.
- Learn a recipe that celebrates traditional foods and sources ingredients from the grocery store.
- Try something new! Often the best meals are simple!
In conclusion, as our organization works on decolonizing Thanksgiving, we hope that you’ll consider doing the same with your family.
By Kistie Singh, Executive Director
Edited by William Brennan