In what’s become a theme for community events in the past year and a half, Six Nations once again re-arranged plans to continue holding events in the ever-changing pandemic world.
This past Friday marked a beloved Six Nations’ annual event, Bread and Cheese Day, which normally takes place over Victoria Day weekend in a tradition dating back to the queen’s reign in which she would gift Haudenosaunee people with bread and cheese.
The community now has a trust fund held in Ottawa that is used to buy thousands of loaves of bread and chunks of cheese.
For two years now, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Bread and Cheese was not handed out to huge line-ups of crowds inside the Gaylord Powless Arena, accompanied by a long weekend of rides and other festivities at the arena grounds in the heart of Ohsweken.
This year, volunteers from Six Nations Elected Council handed out the goodies during two separate drive-through events where guests remained in their vehicles.
Half the reserve visited the Gathering Place on Chiefswood Road for their bread and cheese, while the other half drove through the parking lot of the Gaylord Powless Arena.
Precisely at 11 a.m., a huge line-up of cars started to roll through the parking lot at bread stations and cheese stations and within an hour, before noon, thousands of community members left with cars full of bread and cheese.
Despite the obvious changes to the century-old tradition, which began in the late 1800s, one thing remained a constant: community members came together to say hi to old friends, near and far, a much-needed respite from a year of staying apart.
“This isn’t about the Queen; it’s about the community,” said Elected Chief Mark Hill, who enthusiastically handed out bread to hundreds of vehicles that came through the Gathering Place. “It’s nice to see everybody’s smiling faces.”
The Chief and elected councillors cheerfully chatted with community members coming through the line-up but there was no forgetting the horrifying year it’s been for Indigenous communities across Canada, as all the volunteers wore orange shirts to commemorate the lives of thousands of Indigenous children whose bodies have been found in hidden graves at former residential schools across the country since May.
Orange is the colour associated with residential school survivors.
“Every child matters,” Chief Hill said, which is the slogan and hashtag associated with residential schools, which were a government-led program to assimilate children into Canadian culture by forcing them to attend boarding schools away from their home communities until the last one closed in 1996 in Saskatchewan.