Dear Victoria, why bread and why cheese?

Jace Koblun w/files from Jim Windle

Six Nations is once again opening its arms to its neighbours during Community Awareness 2022; the month-long celebration of activities and fun which coincides with May 23’s Bread and Cheese Day, better known as Victoria Day off the territory.

Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert began the tradition of distributing gifts to Indigenous people in the British Empire on the Queen’s birthday during their reign. The gift eventually changed from blankets to bread and cheese – a customary gift to England’s poor – at the pressure of British politicians to reduce the cost of the couple’s philanthropic spending abroad.

Upon Albert’s death in 1861, dispersions of bread and cheese on the Queen’s birthday were picked up by the hereditary chiefs and burgeoning Department of Indian Affairs.

in the 1880s at Six Nations –  who bore the expense out of their own funds as a celebration of the Queen’s Birthday event every year. In 1882 a total of $189.29 was given to the community for Bread, Cheese, and prize money for races held in celebration of Her Majesty’s Birthday.

Year after year, requests were made up to the year of Victoria’s death in 1901. The Six Nations chiefs took initiative after her passing to continue the tradition, even beginning a new tradition called “Indian National Day” in place of Victoria Day. The new National Day was hoped to install indigenous pride in the people of Six Nations and the first Indian National Day celebrations were shared in 1908 with Oneida Nation of the Thames.

The Six Nations Chiefs eventually did not carry on with Indian National Day, deciding after community discussions to just carry on with Victoria Day as usual. They kept the tradition going until the hereditary chiefs were removed and an elected system put in play in 1924 by the RCMP. The elected council then picked up the tradition in the 1930s and it has been continued on through to today.

Community Awareness 2022, which began May 2 and runs until the 27th, is a celebration of today’s Six Nations community, its people, its business, its services and its sports teams. Neighbouring communities are invited to join in on the celebrations too.

Normally it’s an annual gathering of family and friends from across Turtle Island to get reacquainted with one another. But for the past two years Bread and Cheese Day organizers had been forced to operate differently due to the COVID-19 pandemic — setting up deliveries and other ways community members could receive their bread and cheese, as opposed to the usual walk-through at one of the local arenas.

This year organizers and community members are looking forward to reconnecting in the same way as before — allowing for possibly even greater reconnecting and friendships made than prior Bread and Cheese Day celebrations. This year Bread and Cheese Day is being held at the Six Nations Sports & Cultural Memorial Centre and returns to in-person pickup.

According to the Community Awareness 2022 Event Booklet, home deliveries are available. Arrangements must be made by contacting Six Nations Elected Council’s Administration.

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