SIX NATIONS — The month of May would have hosted the annual Community Awareness Week for Six Nations. But on Monday, and for the first time in the history of Bread and Cheese (Victoria Day), the staples of Bread and Cheese were delivered to residents’ homes due to the parameters of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Signs thanking council and essential workers, along with balloons, coolers and decorations lined the streets of the reserve as residents patiently awaited their deliveries in vehicles at the end of their driveways.
Some said it was a nice idea not only to still celebrate the annual event, but to shield from the rain as well.
“Nyaweh to everyone delivering bread and cheese on this cold, rainy, foggy day. I believe they’re running a tad behind schedule but better late than never. This has to be the craziest bread n cheese day ever that everyone will be telling their grandchildren and great-grandchildren for years to come. Thanks again to all those that made this day possible,” wrote Jen Mt. Pleasant to the Six Nations Community Bulletin Board on Facebook.
As Mt. Pleasant wrote, community members will be able to share the story of “when Bread and Cheese were delivered to us.” But not to forget the sentimental history behind the celebration:
“Bread and Cheese Day is an annual ‘gathering of the Nations’ as it were, as Six Nations families from across Turtle Island come home to get reacquainted with friends and relatives. The population at Ohsweken usually quadruples that day with a fair and the annual Six Nations Arrows Express lacrosse game Monday afternoon at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena.
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 Carr on with Victoria Day as usual. They keep 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.