Thanksgiving celebrates the bounty available to early European settlers in North America because of the generosity of and lessons learned from the indigenous people who befriended them.

As survival is celebrated in this dark global pandemic year, the lessons those settlers didn’t learn could open the door to survival in the future.

This month, the Karuk and Yurok tribes announced an accord with other stakeholders that may lead to the removal of four dams on the Klamath River in 2023.

The accord will be a tremendous environmental win if it is finalized. A free-flowing river could again support salmon runs. The tribes, the financial investors who own the dams and the states of Oregon and California, through which the river flows, have approved the deal. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must still sign off before removal may begin.

This summer, the Yurok Tribe also announced that its tribal courts would recognize a right of personhood for the Klamath River.

The concept of personhood rights was once reserved for human beings. In the controversial campaign donations case known as Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court extended those rights to corporations. Nations including Colombia and New Zealand have extended personhood rights to nature itself. The United Nations has issued a declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to protect tribal lands and resources.

Old World settlers, like those at the first Thanksgiving gathering, feared wild places. Nature was to be exploited, bent to human desires. Humans then did not concern themselves with adapting to nature.

Their descendants have continued to adhere to those values. Then and now, they have ignored the values of those who built civilization for thousands of generations without destroying it.

The U.S. would do well to pay attention to those values. Personhood rights are a good place to start.

If a river has rights, humans have responsibilities to the river itself and to the communities of which it is a part. Salmon in the river become as important as human power needs.

Juggling these rights will require new technological advances. It will also require different assumptions about lifestyles. The rights of personhood for nature could show the way forward in solving the climate crisis.

After the first Thanksgiving, settlers reinforced lessons of conquest and exploitation. In a year of so many changes, modern humans should relearn the lessons of the indigenous guests at that first gathering so everyone can look forward to a future of bountiful Thanksgivings.


“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to editorialboard@mtexpress.com.

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