Thanksgiving has traditionally been a time when Canadians come together with friends, family, and neighbours to share in our gratitude. In most cases, a table is set, dinner is served, everyone shares what they are thankful for, and a little post-turkey weight is put on (however unwanted it may be). After a long weekend, the kids go back to school, the adults go back to work, and we all continue on with our lives; one would hope that we do so a little more awake to our blessings.
Thanksgiving usually has a connection to the land itself. Autumn, the harvest, a cornucopia, European settlers arriving in a new land: all these things are images that come up this time as markers of this holiday. However, no matter how many items are on our Thanksgiving list to be thankful for, as a country, a key element is missing from that picture. That element is the Aboriginal and First Nations community within Canada.
One cannot take pride in one’s history completely. I love Canada. I am proud beyond belief to be Canadian and grateful beyond expression to have the privileges that I have as a Canadian. That being said, I recognize that these are immense, and were given to me, not worked for. Moreover, that these privileges come at a cost, a cost which I, as a white person have never had to pay.
As egalitarian as Canada is thought to be today, there is a long and dark part to our history that is not accounted for in most textbooks. From Columbian-era conquests of the peoples who naturally inhabited what would later be seized and re-appropriated as ‘North American’ land, to the present day status of aboriginal people within this country, there is much that is ignored. From the use of hunger as a weapon by the Canadian government to clear the west, to the horrors of residential schools, to the fact that reservation land cannot be used as collateral, the bounty of “new” Canadians has been largely accrued at the expense of those who were here first. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.”
I learned about these tragedies to some degree in my grade 10 history class. I had a fair and respectful teacher who was adamant about including the voices of the historically oppressed, and for that I am grateful. Not all students are that lucky. Beyond the classroom, when we talk about the economic feasibility of pipelines, changes to budgets, and crisis management, too often this country sees our indigenous populations as a burden or, even worse, does not figure them in to the equation at all.
In order to move forward towards a viable solution, all Canadians — not just an official statement from the Canadian government — must recognize our privilege, and try to rectify the unjust distribution of wealth and “luck” in this country. I hope that when Canadians are digging into beautifully cooked food all over the country this weekend, we can stop and reflect on why we are able to do this, and how our dominance came to be.
When I look at Israel, I see a similar problem. Yes, Jews have lived in the holy land for thousands of years. Yes, I believe that Israel has a right to exist. However, as in accordance with the very foundation of Judaism, more of the principles of love, respect and generosity need to be injected into Israeli policy. I am not one to say who is right when it comes to the question of Israel and Palestine. Both “sides” have committed wrongs and rights, and neither “side” speaks for those who can be grouped into this false dichotomy.
That being said, when I hear of aggressive settlements being built on disputed land, and aggressive campaigns against people who have lived in areas for centuries, I find it impossible to look away. We, as Jews, have a land where we can seek asylum and maintain our religious freedom… but what are some of the costs of that freedom? I don’t have answers nor do I have a perfect solution, but it seems to me there has to be a better way. Asserting Israeli dominance at all costs is not the road to peace. There were people on this land who deserve law and order and proper treatment from a government that preaches justice and freedom.
This Thanksgiving, all I ask is that we not only acknowledge what we have, but that we think about why we have it, and how to “spread the love” the same way we spread the gravy.