My Indian Thanksgivings: colonial confusion washed away with gratitude

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To Give Thanks to the land and the people we owe our abundance to

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the fertility and richness of the lands that non-indigenous people to Turtle Island  benefit from, many times without even thinking about how lucky we are.

This richness and abundance we owe to the indigenous caretakers of these lands. As Chef Nephi Craig shares: “Consider giving thanks for ancestral landscapes. All over the coasts and the United States, the most fruitful and agriculturally productive landscapes were once territories of native peoples. Rivers, fisheries, waterways, and other sources of food on land have genetic memories of food, just like we do.”

This richness is not “by chance”, nor is it “luck of the land”, and it is certainly not due to colonial forms of land caretaking. It’s thanks to the indigenous generations who live in relationship with the land- learning from her, honouring her, and understanding that we are part of the web of life, not apart from it.

I mean, this land has been layered with such richness that the ‘grade A’ soil can continue to produce food abundantly even after 50+ years of large scale monocultures of corn, soy, and other produce that the white capitalist rational world thinks we need in order to feed our populations.  Large scale monocultures are so insidious that they deplete what’s supposed to be cyclical. Our earth is built and maintained on cyclical paths, even agriculture and natural food systems. If we harvest mindfully, if we allow the natural vegetation to grow, if we learn about the localized plant foods, if we ask permission, if we model our food systems after nature and forests, we see that the cyclical paths are not disturbed. But when we allow linear thinking to dominate- there is an end, a disconnect.

With every passing year we allow our land to be depleted of her natural, cyclical nutrients, we deplete the richness that our indigenous people cultivate through their various forms of agriculture, ceremony, and teachings.

I’m an Indian female who immigrated to Mississauga with my family when I was five. My Indian heritage is a mix of gujarati and south Indian, I was born in Malawi, Africa, and I am a monolingual English speaker. A not-so-rare story in our immigrant diaspora here in colonial Canada. The fall season is a beautiful time of harvest, colour, stories, and preparation for the darker days. This thanksgiving weekend I had such paradoxical but telling experiences around  thanksgiving, food, family, and gratitude. I experienced two Indian thanksgivings and I want to share them with you. Please indulge me in this cheeky use of “Indian” to refer to both my ancestors and the indigenous people of Turtle Island, specifically the nations of The Dish with One Spoon treaty lands. (link below)

On the Friday of the Thanksgiving weekend I attended a dinner at my mom’s best friend’s place where she and her beautiful Punjabi family were hosting a “Canadian” Thanksgiving dinner.  Everything was perfectly laid out, just how Martha Stewart intended. Conflicting feelings arose for me- on one hand feeling so grateful to share an abundance of beautiful foods like squash, potatoes, corn, turkey with an Indian family (my people), but then feeling the confused tension of what image we as (east) Indian people are trying to create for ourselves and our family celebrating a “white people” holiday with foods that are indigenous to Turtle Island (although these foods are rarely attributed to thousands of years of indigenous cultivation). Also, it seems what was really being celebrated was the chance to drink grand amounts of red wine out of glasses bigger than my face, oh family dynamics!

The foods didn’t really resonate with the Punjabi elders- one nanape was like “where’s the dahl and roti?” haha! And when I asked the (second generation immigrant) adults why we celebrate Thanksgiving, they were quiet and stuttered on their words. Some said because this is what the white pilgrims started when they came to Canada, another one said because it’s a celebration of defeating the native Indians, another said they stole the celebration from native people, and another was like “let’s just enjoy the food”. I’m not sharing this so I can share the answer of what I think is right, I just want to share how confused I think immigrants of colour  are about what their lifestyle needs to look like in order to feel successful, fulfilled, and engaged in our present day Western society. My Indian family and friends, mainly middle-class folks,  believe that to show our success and competency in colonial Canada is to live out the whitened glamorous capitalist instagram dream.

That being said, us Indian families are no strangers to large shared meals with families and friends- being very generous and loving with our food, and honouring our traditional foods is ingrained in us from birth. It just becomes weird and confusing when we start to think we need to be white about it. Also, it feels weird when more of us are so blatantly ignorant about the colonial violence and reality that has been inflicted on indigenous people and the ongoing exploitation of indigenous lands that we live on. In my observation it seems like (my) Indian people have taken time to study and learn all about our white colonizers and oppressors; yet have little to no consciousness for learning about indigenous people and lands that experience ongoing colonial violence. Maybe we think we experience enough so we don’t need to take on other battles/traumas? Maybe we actually are brainwashed into thinking this is white people’s land? Maybe we are so traumatized by our disconnect from ancestral roots/lands that it is difficult for us to acknowledge other’s traumas that we are complicit in? Maybe we don’t want to take responsibility? PSA: If you are an immigrant here, coloured or not, please take time to learn about the indigenous cultures of the land you so comfortably call home.

It’s just so funny to me- how the healthy, cyclical, soulful richness of land, culture, food, is so easily forgotten (or encouraged to forget) in the buzz of the rapid, technological, production-based lifestyles. Like this richness exudes from the land here, in what we know today as the Greater Toronto Area, and the vibrant diverse cultures are an important part of this richness; it is no coincidence that this land is now home to the most culturally diverse population. My personal experiences of connecting to the land and to its indigenous cultures has enabled me to begin to see the truths, the foods, the responsibilities that we all hold if we want to call this place HOME. My hope in this is not to lecture, not to rant, but to shake us from our fast-food, displaced knowledge lull.

To awaken our responsibility to this beautiful land, to learn from the indigenous knowledge holders in respectful ways, to own our identities, and to not be so damn passive to colonial brainwashing.

The following day, after our whitened instagram-worthy thanksgiving dinner, my mother, my twin, my friend and I drove up to the Kanonhstaton land defence camp because my friend was invited by one of the organizers to join their community thanks-giving potluck (where friends and family were welcome to join). My mom and brother hadn’t been to a reserve here in Ontario, and I have only once visited the Mississaugas of the New Credit. I had proposed this to my family as the best way we could show gratitude this harvest season and they joyfully agreed. We arrived there, with 3 OPP cars strategically littered near the road entrance, feeling nervous and hoping we weren’t going to be an intrusion on their community potluck. We had sheppard’s pie and south Indian food to contribute, and as we entered the gates we broke the awkwardness of being strange, new faces by offering the food we brought. The gesture of food brought a smile to one of the woman’s faces and she warmly introduced herself as Jackie, one of the organizers of the potluck. We placed our food among 30 other dishes of lentil curries, roasted squash, wild rice, and more in a humble wooden cooking shed, filled with the abundance to feed a community.

Situated on beautiful rolling grassland with a distant border of deciduous forest, the Kanonhstaton camp was full of action yet rest on this autumn-air day: elders and visitors gathering around the sacred fire and picnic tables, the children playing on the swings and running through the fields adjacent to the fire, the cooking shed right behind the fire, a team of people building a new shelter for storage (fully built in one day because of the harsh winds), and a gathering of tents in the field strategically situated far from the entrance.  The Kanonhstaton camp is a reclamation of land that belongs to the Haudenosaunee confederation, in which the province of Ontario promised to transfer back in 2006 but failed to do so respectfully after the intense land disputes referred to as the Caledonia Standoff. Instead the Ontario government gave the land to the (colonial) elected band council, thus keeping the land under the jurisdiction of the Canadian government, as opposed to giving it to the Haudenosaunee confederation as sovereign land.

So now, the land reclamation camp is a move for sovereignty. Moving away from the colonial state that works tirelessly to disempower indigenous peoples and lands. The goal of the Kanonhstaton camp is to create an eco-village, where they aim to build self-sufficient homes and community spaces so that members of Six Nations are not reliant on the limited and oppressive support our colonial government offers, where they are able to perform their traditional practices, and where they determine what happens with the land.

Please read more on the broken promises from the Canadian government as experienced by Six Nations and the Kanonhstaton Camp (links below).

The community is getting set up for the winter season – it was very moving to see the early stages of the land reclamation camp, knowing the long journey ahead but feeling the power of acting on values and principles. To break the awkwardness of not knowing where to place ourselves among the sacred fire circle, my family and I gravitated to the food as our ice breaker. We gathered healthy servings of the potluck spread, found open spots around the fire, ate, and began making small talk with folks there. The kids, more open to strangers, came and started asking us questions while their family carefully watched. Kids and food provide that similar role of icebreaking and wholesome interaction, they both allow time to ease into a space/community, I felt really grateful for the presence of both.

After some time my brother, my mom, and I started branching off and talking with different folks, gravitating towards the people we felt called to. I took time to read articles and Haudenosaunee statements on the land disputes, broken promises, and calls for sovereignty outlined on the walls of the cook shack. I spoke with Jackie, one of their main organizers, she lives on the land there, and was so excited to host us for the afternoon. She said to me, “I’m so glad you and your family came up here for a visit, you are always welcome, come hang out and have food, if you are able to find support for our work in the city that’s awesome, but mainly come visit. It’s great to see young people caring about this. That’s who’s gonna change things, the young people.”

Other folks I met who were visiting the Kanonhstaton Camp were political asylum seekers from Chile. Folks who had been involved with unjust land disputes from colonial governments in their homeland and the struggle for indigenous land sovereignty. They were happy to be here connecting with people from Six Nations and connecting with us, because after all, like Martha, one of the Chilean women said, “This struggle for culture, land, and connection is all of our struggle, we all have to stay connected and support each other when needed.”

The evening ended on the note of song around fire. My friend brought a beautiful handmade instrument from his homeland Zimbabwe, an orchestra in a fibre glass gourd-like dome. Drums and rattles were reverberating from the hands of the children, my brother, and myself. My friend sang one of the traditional songs from his village, the delicate vocals of the sub-saharan African hymns putting everyone in a trance. Then my mom felt called to singing a traditional hymn in her South Indian mother tongue- Kannada. She sang beautifully as I played the drum beat on a djembe drum. Her voice capturing the characteristic runs and high notes of ghazals. To wrap up Jackie and Eva, who organized the gathering that day, shared a few words. They spoke- giving gratitude to all of us who gathered today to show our support, to the food we shared, and they reminded us of all the hard work and challenges they’ll be facing in the near future as they prepare to build for the upcoming winter months, calling on all of us to help in whatever way we can offer.

A sincere humbling of my heart, to see such a beautiful community working, struggling, and rejoicing towards the health of their land, culture, and past/future generations.

A firm responsibility washing over me, knowing that if I have support to offer to the land and to the indigenous caretakers I must see it through, after all, it is my home too.

A deep sense of connection strengthening me and my family’s relationship to this land.

Two very different Indian Thanksgivings in appearance and approach. Yet they both enacted with the underlying core values of family, identity, community, love, generosity, and gratitude. Leaving me slightly dumbfounded but also incredibly motivated with the idea of our collective coloured strength.

I want to end this by referring to The Dish with One Spoon treaty between the Anishnabee, Mississaugas, Haudanosaunee nations- highlighting their nations’ and any subsequent nations/peoples who live on this land to share in the responsibility of ensuring the dish is never empty; which includes taking care of the land and creatures, being in relationship with the land, and sharing in the spirit of friendship, peace, and respect.

Gratitude calling us to be intentional about our relationship to land, to each other, and to ourselves

With thanks, meherbaani, Nià:wen, miigwech,





Sources & Places for Further Knowledge

Land acknowledgement:

Dish with One Spoon Treaty:

Chef Nephi Craig:

Kanonhstaton Land Reclamation:

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