The traditional way to celebrate Thanksgiving might have felt out of place this year, in the midst of such lament and fear in the world. Especially with the recent presidential elections in the United States, the next four years will be an uphill battle for justice-seekers and environmentalists. In this sense, we are at a critical point in human history where the balance of the ecosystems is close to its tipping point and we as a species are in strong need of redefining our understanding of Nature. Currently, the ongoing protest in the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is one of the many symptoms of our Western Societies’ exploration of natural resources to keep up economic growth in favor of investors all over the world.
While millions of American families came together to celebrate Thanksgiving, more than 200 indigenous tribes and thousands of environmental activists have gathered in Standing Rock since April to prevent the construction of the North Dakota Access Pipeline. Thanksgiving should be a reminder to the nation to celebrate gratitude for and exclusivity of Native Americans; it is therefore even more painful to witness how militarized police and political powers chose to continue a 600-year American legacy: destruction of land, sterilization of culture, and denial of the full humanity of Indigenous People. In the latest clash, law enforcement used water cannons in freezing temperatures along with rubber bullets, tear-gas and percussion grenades against unarmed protesters. Yet, the Water Protectors still stand, resolute in their right to their own sacred land, heritage and water. To remind us that life on earth is due to the presence of water.
This year, Thanksgiving rather seemed like a travesty to me – a holiday to remind Americans of Indigenous Peoples’ hospitality when settlers arrived in The New World – showing that the government still represses indigenous rights and exploits natural resources on sacred tribal lands. The ongoing protest shows that the climate crisis is not only social, political, economic, and technological, but is at the root spiritual. We as humans have lost the sense that this planet is our true home, and collectively fail to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings. Instead, western culture continues to uncritically accept the view that “man” is superior to “nature” and the right to “use” the natural world in any way “he” sees fit. I wish to convey my gratitude to the Standing Rock protesters, who are not just standing for themselves but holding a symbolic line for all of us to remind us of the sacredness of nature. Indigenous People are standing up against the construction of the pipeline to make us realize that water is life and a key player in our battle against climate change.
The preservation of the earth requires a profound shift in consciousness, a recovery of more ancient and traditional views that revere the connection of all beings in the web of life and a rethinking of humans’ relationship and divinity to nature. Thousands of people around the world trust in the power and voice of the people at Standing Rock, praying and gathering in gratitude, to send a strong message to current and future political leaders: “This is what democracy looks like.” For me, this is a sign of hope, and a reason to give thanks. Thanksgiving was a day to remember that life on earth is due to the presence of water.
Svenja Telle is pursuing a PhD in Natural Resources at the Rubenstein School at UVM, and is part of the third cohort of E4A students. Her research interests lie in environmental peacebuilding in transitioning economies, with a focus on democracy, political ecology and the link between post-war peacebuilding and environmental – as well as natural resource – governance.