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Columbus Need Not Apply: It’s ‘You’re Welcome Day’ in Canada, a.k.a. Thanksgiving

[node:summary]First Nations chef says most Thanksgiving dishes date back to aboriginal times.
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Canada dispenses with Columbus and dives right into Thanksgiving. Like the U.S. version, it is a celebration of harvest time. But unlike its south-of-the-49th-Parallel counterpart, it is not rife with images of smiling Pilgrims sharing food with magnanimous Indians. In fact, indigenous culture has been left out of the festivities altogether.

Or so people thought. But now, a prominent aboriginal chef has a last laugh for those who think Indigenous Peoples do not factor into the mix: Much of what Canadians eat on Thanksgiving has indigenous roots.

Culinary arts professor and APTN’s Cooking With the Wolfman host and producer David Wolfman tells the Canadian Press that feasts including such foods as roast fowl, root vegetables, squash, nuts and berries, corn and other familiar delectables were consumed centuries before Europeans came into the mix. Fare could vary according to where the indigenous group lived, the Canadian Press said, with buffalo, elk, caribou and even seafood potentially on the menu. CTV News offered some recipes from Wolfman and other chefs. 

Wolfman, a member of Xaxli'p First Nation in British Columbia, has taught culinary arts at George Brown College in Toronto for 20 years and hosted the APTN cooking show for 15. He said that although many of the foods eaten at Thanksgiving today were new to Europeans back then, the newcomers had to adapt.

The first Thanksgiving is attributed to Sir Martin Frobisher and his crew, who held a day of thanks in 1578 after living through their journey from England, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. But even Governor General David Johnston has tipped his hat to the Indigenous Peoples who were here when the others arrived.

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“Thanksgiving, which is celebrated throughout North America, is rooted in the European agricultural tradition,” Johnston said in his 2013 Thanksgiving proclamation. “However, even before settlers arrived in the promised land, once a year First Nations members also celebrated the fertility of their lands, the abundance of the harvests and the fruits of their labours.”

The absence of direct indigenous involvement in the holiday has driven some Native peoples in Canada to eschew the holiday altogether. Such has happened with Kim and Jordan Wheeler, who have renamed it “You’re Welcome Weekend.”

“The giving thanks I can understand,” wrote Jordan Wheeler (Cree, George Gordon First Nation) in a column with his wife for CBC News. “In my culture we give thanks every day.”

That includes thanks for yet another day of life, thanks to the sacrifice of the plants and animals that feed us, thanks for the air that sustains our breath, thanks for water to drink, and thanks for good health, he said.

“But to roll all those daily thanks into one day of the year and think you have it covered?” he wrote. “Too easy and convenient—and people call ‘Indians’ lazy!”

It took Kim Wheeler a while to come around, but she eventually began wondering, “What was the indigenous community thankful for in a time when schoolteachers had kids coloring pictures of pilgrims and making turkeys from outlines of their hands?”