Saving Identities and our Sisters

Anti-Colonial Thanksgiving takes on Indigenous Myths and Murders

Anti-Colonial Thanksgiving put on by the Frigo Vert features vegan options and hefty amounts of turkey. Photo Andrew Brennan
Tamara Filyavich welcomes dinner guests to the ninth annual Anti-Colonial Thanksgiving. Photo Andrew Brennan

Justice for indigenous women and deconstructing the myth of Thanksgiving themed the ninth annual Anti-Colonial Thanksgiving on Nov. 28 in downtown Montreal.

Hosted by the non-profit food collective Frigo Vert and the Concordia branch of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group, the subject matter changes each year—but Frigo Vert organizer Tamara Filyavich says the kernel of inspiration stays the same.

“We focus on the colonization of food, because we are a food outlet,” said Filyavich. “[We try] getting people to start questioning settler privilege, what it is, and acknowledge our role as settlers and learning how to be allies [with native communities].”

Roughly 75 people sat together at the long tables of the Centre d’éducation populaire de la Petite-Bourgogne et de St-Henri, supping on turkey and vegan options provided by Concordia’s food-access program, People’s Potato.

As they dined, speaker Clifton Michaels offered his insights on the mythology of Thanksgiving.

“The first Thanksgivings that were celebrated […] weren’t necessarily ones of amity between indigenous people and settlers,” he explained. “It was a celebration of settlers’ slaughter of indigenous people.”

Western cultures, according to Michaels, need the rose-tinted myths of pilgrims and natives coming together to continue the subjugation of native communities.

Native women are also suffering disproportionately, added keynote speaker Bridget Tolley.

Travelling from the Kitigan Zibi Algonquin reserve just north of Ottawa to tell her story, Tolley held back tears recounting trying to get justice for her dead mother Gladys, who was struck by a police vehicle in 2001.

The roadblocks to getting answers included trying to open an inquiry into why a relative of the officer who had struck her mother was supervising the investigation, she told the mostly young crowd.

Tolley found she wasn’t alone, though. The government, she said, was letting many murders and disappearances go without proper investigations.

“Not only were they forgetting about my mother, they were forgetting about all of these women,” she said, pointing to a row of missing and murdered faces behind her that had already been lost across Canada.

In response, Tolley helped start the native women’s lobby group Sisters in Spirit, and in 2006 partnered with Amnesty International to host vigils across the country in honour of missing and murdered native women.

SIS was rebranded Families of Sisters in Spirit after losing rights to the SIS name along with their funding from the federal government in 2010.

Going forward, the group still has a long road ahead of them, says Tolley. They still need to grow and develop a national action plan in order to better support families of missing women—but money for native services is drying up.

“It’s really hard, because [although] we do have our national aboriginal organizations, as soon as they say something their funding gets cut,” she said.

For upcoming workshops and other events, check out Le Frigo Vert online.