The Band’s Robbie Robertson discusses the conflict on Thanksgiving for native peoples: ‘It’s a bit of a sore spot’

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For Robbie Robertson, the Thanksgiving season can be a complicated time. On the one hand, the Band’s sprawling concert The Last Waltz was filmed on this holiday. But then there’s his relationship to native peoples.

Robertson was born to a Jewish father in Toronto, and later adopted by James Robertson, but his mother was of Mohawk descent. Long before he rose to fame, first as a sideman with Bob Dylan and then as the guitarist and principal songwriter for the Band, Robertson would spend summers with his maternal relatives — gaining some of his first exposure to music at Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation.

Later, Robertson would more fully explore his native roots on solo projects like 1994’s Music for The Native Americans and 1998’s Contact from the Underworld of Redboy.

Over time, the conflicts became ever more obvious when it came to Thanksgiving — which in the U.S. is commonly traced back to a harvest-time celebration at Plymouth in the 1600s involving the Puritans and the indiginous people they encountered upon arriving in the Americas.

Of course, that friendship (if, indeed, there ever was one) would not last.

And yet Thanksgiving endures as celebration both in the U.S. (where it falls on the fourth Thursday of every November) as well as in Robertson’s native Canada — though their holiday marks a separate occasion, and is held on the second Monday in October.

“There’s a real conflict of celebration of that,” Robertson told George Stroumboulopoulos, in advance of the approaching holidays. “It’s a bit of a sore spot, Thanksgiving, in Indian country. On Canadian Thanksgiving I’m going to be celebrating with some Canadian friends. And the American Thanksgiving I’m not going to think about the mistreatment of people, I’m just going to go ahead and give some thanks.”

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