So here we are at the start of the holiday season once again. The food stores in my New England town are mobbed with people loading up their shopping carts with turkeys and all the trimmings for a grand Thanksgiving meal. Christmas trees are beginning to appear at the farm stands and garden centers. The lights are coming on to ward off the early afternoon gloom. We are going through the motions.
On the other side of the country, there are some other kinds of motions going on this Thanksgiving season.
How about water cannons drenching unarmed and unprotected people peacefully protesting the pipeline that threatens their land and water?
How about mace, rubber bullets and all-night floodlights?
How about constant intimidation and harassment?
This is what the Thanksgiving season is bringing to the good people of Standing Rock, North Dakota, and the friends and allies who are standing firm at the camp, determined to protect the water and resist the bullying from law enforcement and private security guards.
Yes, here we are at Thanksgiving, the holiday supposedly celebrating the way the Native Americans generously fed the European settlers, helping them avoid starvation during that first New England winter.
The Pilgrims didn’t repay the Native people well then, and that was only the beginning of the holocaust visited on Native Americans all across this continent.
In the history books, they make it sound like that was all a long time ago; like those old prejudices and oppressions are safely in the past.
But Andrew Jackson the Indian-killer is still on the $20 bill, and what we’re seeing in Standing Rock this Thanksgiving week shows that there is still no respect when it comes to Native Americans.
Be it noted that the Dakota pipeline was originally routed right next to predominantly white town of Bismarck ND. When the people there protested, the route was promptly changed. It didn’t require thousands of men, women and children, camping out for months; there were no water cannons, tear gas or rubber bullets used.
But when it comes to re-routing the pipeline away from Lakota sacred lands, and away from the Missouri River, which supplies millions of people with drinking water—the gloves come off immediately.
One shudders to think of how this might have been handled in the days before social media. In 2016, the North Dakota authorities are brutal, but they know the world is watching: there are many people, including celebrities, standing with Standing Rock in its quest to protect the water and land.
Still, here we are at Thanksgiving, and the news from Standing Rock is getting worse, not better.
President Obama has not responded to the pleas for help. There have been protests across the country, but with the sudden, unexpected ascension of Trump and the Republicans, Americans who might have thrown their weight behind Standing Rock have been distracted, making plans for the Electoral College March, the Million Woman March, and standing vigil at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
From Trump Tower to Standing Rock, what we’re seeing is all part of a continuum of violence: violence against women, against less powerful identity groups, against animals and trees, against the land and the water and the oceans; against life itself on this great planet.
In the old days, what is happening now would have been depicted mythologically as a struggle between life and death, good and evil, the weak and the powerful.
But this time around a victory for the powerful is going to take us all a step closer to the Armageddon of climate change.
How can we open the eyes of the fossil fuel lords and the militarized police that are doing their bidding?
There are movements afoot to divest from the fossil fuel industry and from banks funding the Dakota pipeline. Money seems to be the only language these folks understand, so that may be an effective form of protest.
This Thanksgiving, every American should give thanks for the Native Americans who, despite everything, are still standing firm as protectors and stewards of their lands.
People don’t like to think about this, but it’s true: there may come a time when we European settlers will once again call desperately on Native peoples’ deep knowledge of this land. Once again, Native generosity may be the only thing standing between us and starvation.
All over the world, as climate change sets in and modern industrial agriculture, trade routes and energy sources are disrupted, those who still remember how to nestle into the bosom of Mother Earth and live simply off what she provides—these will be the people who will survive the shocks that await human civilization in the Anthropocene.
Maybe the good people of North Dakota should think twice, this Thanksgiving week, before sending out the dogs and the water cannons, the tanks and the tear gas again.
May we all give thanks for the blessings Mother Earth gives us constantly, without reserve, seeking nothing in return. May we learn to be grateful, and as generous in our turn. May we humans—all of us—rise to become the Earth stewards we were always meant to be. May we give thanks and honor to the Native peoples for showing us the way.