Obligatory eating

Fewer things are more distinctly Six Nations than Bread and Cheese Day. For those of you who don’t have a clue what I am talking about, allow me to explain.

Bread and Cheese Day is a day where the Six Nations people all go to the middle of our reserve a.k.a. “the village”, stand in a massive line up and wait to receive a piece of bread and a piece of cheese. Literally. This is done by the Elected Council, who funds all this bread and cheese, distributing it in honour of the relationship between the British Crown and the Six Nations as was done annually by Queen Victoria up until her death.

I’m not talking cheese sandwich size pieces of bread or cheese, no sir-ee bob. Each man, woman, and child who stands in that line up gets a chunk of cheese that is about the size of a pound of butter, and a big hunk of bread that is about three sandwiches worth!

Now, within the heritage of the Haudenosaune also rests a tradition within ceremonial feasts that says when you are invited to a feast, you must eat all of the food presented to you.

Although Bread and Cheese Day is not a ceremonial feast per se, it still is a “ceremony” of sorts where the Elected Council distributes this food annually to people who are willing participants, as recognition of the relationship between the British Crown and the Haudenosaune people.

It is my hypothesis that because many of us at Six Nations are hardwired to associate ceremonial feasts with obligatory eating, that this is why so many of us end up stuffed to the gills with bread and cheese on Victoria Day.

Every single year that I have known “Uncle Gary” (whose shall remain anonymous in order to protect his identity) he comes over to visit after he gets his bread and cheese. Uncle Gary will go through the line not once, but twice to receive his annual gift. This happens around noontime. By 4pm “Uncle Gary” will stop by the family homestead where we are usually gathered gwissing out on corn soup and scones. You know, normal Haudenosaune stuff.

Come the next day, “Uncle Gary” always comes by, rooting through the medicine cabinet, looking for anything he can find to help his ailing tummy, which is, as he puts it, “all bound up” because he ate nearly all the cheese gift given. After nine years I have learned that I should always have a bottle of Metamucil ready for Bread and Cheese Day.

The wiser of the Haudenosaune, the mothers, let everyone have a taste of the bread and cheese once it is given, and are usually armed with plastic grocery bags, or even better yet – a cooler – to keep the gifts in. They take this stuff home and make epic grilled cheese sandwiches for supper and say a quiet prayer of thanks to the Creator for this gift.

Some of the more glum tales of Bread and Cheese Day come from those of us who suffer from either a lactose or gluten intolerance. Sadly, Bread and Cheese Day for us is a mere longing for the good old days before dietary intolerance set in. Ironically, celebrating our current relationship with the British Crown also carries the distinct flavour of developed intolerance and mournful longing for the past wouldn’t you say?

However, not to rain on anyone’s Bread and Cheese Day Parade go ahead and get in that line, armed with your plastic grocery bag and a bottle of Metamucil if needed.

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