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Canadian Thanksgiving 2021 is Different Than Any Other Before, Here’s Why

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For many of us, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to gather with family and friends, enjoy the traditional turkey roast dinner and, let’s face it, get a collective day off work or school. But the holiday and it’s origins have also traditionally excluded many groups and can be an extremely isolating time for those who don’t fit narrow normative ideals. 

From Indigenous folks contending with cultural erasure, to LGBTQ+ people and those facing financial barriers and more, there are steps we can take to make everyone feel welcome this Thanksgiving and beyond. 

See also: 10 young Indigenous women leading the way for the next generation.

Nadia George by a creek adjusting her jean jacket collar
Nadia George

Thanksgiving has a painful colonial past towards Indigenous peoples, especially

For Indigenous peoples, Thanksgiving can be a painful reminder of traumatic and violent institutional oppression. While some Indigenous folks certainly celebrate this holiday, its roots in Canada, as well as the United States, are dishonest at best, and full of violence and erasure at worst. Still, Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island (the continent of North America) have held traditions of giving thanks that predate European colonization and, for many, those traditions remain to this day. 

Award-winning public educator, activist and actor Nadia George says, “it’s important to understand that many Indigenous people like myself are not looking to blame those in the present. It’s more about all settlers and newcomers to kind of take a moment and just see [Thanksgiving] through a different lens.” 

George who is of Mi’kmaw (Bear Clan) and Canadian descent adds, “A lot of newcomers that are here on Turtle Island don’t actually even know the real history. They just think it’s a Canadian or American holiday, and it’s part of the culture, so let’s celebrate it. But it’s never discussed… These misconceptions have come to be erasure, and the removal and exclusion of Indigenous narratives in history give an incomplete picture of what really happened.” George, whose spirit name is Thunder Woman, has suggestions for steps we can take to expand our understanding of the holiday, but cautions that they reflect her personal teachings and understandings and that she cannot speak for all Indigenous peoples as everyone’s experience of Thanksgiving is different. 

Here’s what you can do for Thanksgiving this year:

  • Research and recognize the true roots of Thanksgiving
  • As Thanksgiving is about focusing our gratitude, acknowledge the critical role Indigenous generosity, knowledge and guidance played to the survival of European colonizers
  • Make space for Indigenous voices to share their varied perspectives and experiences
  • Take time to learn about the Indigenous groups on whose land we sit, and offer a land acknowledgement
  • Seek out Indigenous organizations, restaurants and businesses to support 

Related: Interview: Indigenous author Tanya Talaga talks righting legacy wrongs in Canada.

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LGBTQ+ folx can be left out of traditions because not everyone got an equal seat at the table

For LGBTQ+ folks, family gatherings can be riddled with (additional) conflict. For some, fielding personal questions from (hopefully well-meaning) family or friends is frustrating enough. But when you layer in the unique challenges facing LGBTQ+ youth, particularly if they haven’t yet fully accepted their identity, it can be that much more difficult. If they have accepted their identity, and Thanksgiving offers up the opportunity to, for the first time, bring that significant other home, they aren’t always met with the same level of acceptance as heteronormative couples. For some, this is where chosen families play a bigger role than biological families. 

Here’s what you should keep in mind:

Related: 11 ways to be a respectful LGBTQ2S+ ally.

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Thanksgiving highlights privilege and inequality of things to be thankful for

For those experiencing economic insecurity, the holidays can add additional financial and emotional pressure. Fear of disappointing loved ones or falling short of all the drummed up expectations is a real thing. The pandemic has led to a rise in unemployment as companies struggled to adjust to global lockdowns and subsequent reopenings. For many young Canadians and their families, the financial impact has been devastating, compounding strain and stress. When it comes to holidays that heavily centre on feasting (and, later in the year, gifting), it can be challenging to come up with money (and time) for the traditional roast turkey and elaborate sides. For those experiencing homelessness, the experience and additional layer of food insecurity and housing crises

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Consider contributing to or volunteering at your local food bank 
  • Make family and friend gatherings potluck-style so everyone shares some cost of the meal
  • Be mindful of the costs associated with meal preparation and the cost of groceries and that not everyone may be able to contribute equally to group gatherings. Offer different options based on a sliding scale of cost 
  • Don’t pressure or guilt-trip anyone who isn’t able to contribute or participate at this time 
  • Be conscious of your social media posts, and that not everybody may have access to a bountiful five-course meal 

Related: On a budget? Here are 11 ways you can still support social justice issues in Canada.

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Single people often get left behind and are “othered” during these traditional times

For single folks, especially those who are newly-single, the holidays that play up normative familial ideals, coupledom and larger traditional family gatherings can hit a sensitive nerve. Not everyone has (or wants) a plus-one, and for those who do but haven’t found the person (or people) yet, it can be unnerving to constantly have to field questions of “when” certain milestones will happen something often outside a person’s realm of control. For these reasons, holidays can frequently be extra-isolating for those who are single.

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Here’s what you should do instead:

  • Don’t ask prying or personal questions, but lend an ear if the person is looking for support
  • Recognize that families come in different shapes of sizes, and this includes a family of one
  • Be mindful of the group dynamics of those on the invite list (is the newly single person the only individual attending a group gathering of couples? Will the ex be there?) 
  • Make things more casual it doesn’t have to be a sit-down dinner, to allow people to come and go as it feels right for them 
  • Be sure to be inclusive and engage everyone in conversation, not only centering it on topics those in relationships are privy to 

Related: 10 annoying questions about your love life and how to answer them.

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The Thanksgiving holiday can create invisible barriers

Whether physical or psychological, our places and spaces are not always equally accessible to all (case in point: stairs). Keep in mind that barriers can come in different forms for different people. 

Here’s how you can help:

  • Be open to experiencing your surroundings from another’s point of view
  • Not all spaces are physically accessible to everyone, so anticipate any potential barriers to potential gathering spots 
  • Know the individual preferences of the person you are seeking to include (some people appreciate accommodation and want to talk about their ability, while others prefer not to)
  • Use the prefer terminology: some folks prefer differently abled, others prefer person with a disability

While such a list can never be all-encompassing, and cannot adequately define all the nuance at each intersection where two or more identities meet, this holiday season can offer a great opportunity to start doing what we ought to have been doing from the very beginning. 

You may also like: The most common workplace microaggressions in Canada.



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