All posts by Shannon Biggs

Rivers, Rights and Revolution: Learning from the Māori

By Shannon Biggs and Pennie Opal Plant, Movement Rights’ Co-founders

 

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Two historic agreements between Maori iwi and the Crown government of New Zealand illuminate a revolutionary way forward for protecting ecosystems and communities.

“How do we win now?” is a question many are asking in the wake of the 2017 US Presidential inauguration and  the  political, social and environmental reality being written using “alternative facts” and an unraveling of rights and protections.  And while for the millions of those who marched in protest—many for the first time, this democratic betrayal feels new.   Not so for many marginalized communities.  Marching, civil disobedience and standing bravely for rights is the lesson of movements from civil rights to Standing Rock. For many Native Americans for example, exactly who sits in the Oval Office has historically had little impact on the genocide, broken treaties and environmental racism they have endured. Despite this, Indigenous people here and around the world are often the most hopeful holders for a new way forward based on some timeless truths.  Here’s what is giving us hope:

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Strong women: Pennie Opal Plant admiring the statue of the courageous Wairaka. Legend says she saved many lives by steering  a drifting canoe back from the sea safety, though women were forbidden to paddle a waka.

On election day, Movement Rights was a world away in every sense of the word. We were in Aotearoa—the Maori word for New Zealand—learning about some of the most powerful protections for the Earth in modern law, and with our Maori guides, immersing ourselves in the ancient culture and cosmology that informs these new laws.

In particular, we were there to examine two truly revolutionary agreements between the Maori and the Crown government that recognize mountains, national parks and watersheds are not property to be owned, but as living ancestors to whom humans bear the responsibility of care.  These agreements—for Te Urewera, formerly a national park in the territory of the Tuhoe iwi (tribe); and the Whanganui River settlement in the territory of the Whanganui iwi—also come with an official apology from the Crown for historic crimes against the land and the Maori people, and redress funding for new management based on Maori cosmology, community education and cultural revitalization. These laws are deeply rooted in the ancient culture and  spiritual traditions of the Maori, but as we learned, they are for everyone.

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Among many other cultural lessons, Hine teaches Maori students traditional gourd carving. Here she adorns flutes made of tiny gourds. (photo: Movement Rights)

Upon landing we were greeted in a Maori way—an attention-grabbing and  boisterous welcoming chant in the Auckland arrivals lounge from our partner, the Maori author-poet and activist, Hinewirangi (Hine) Kohu-Morgan.  Hine was joined by her daughter, Aniwa Kohu and one of her students, Te Aho Paraha, who would travel with us as our Maori cultural guide.

150 years of broken promises

After British colonizing forces arrived ostensibly to trade, Maori populations dwindled by 50% from European diseases and poisonings, torched crops and livestock, starvation and skirmishes with British forces.

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Late 1970s poster expresses the frustration  of the Māori land-rights movement and the initial ineffectiveness of the 1975 Waitungi Tribunal which would ultimately lead to today’s Whanganui River and Te Urewera Settlements.

By 1840 most Chiefs signed an agreement for coexistence—The  Treaty of Waitangi.  There were two versions—one in English and one in Maori—which said two very different things.  Under the The English version, the Maori would become subjects of the Crown, with promises made to respect Maori practices. New Zealand would now be part of the British Empire.  But property was not a concept the Maori understood. The Maori version welcomed the visitors to share  the land of Aoteroa as long as they did not interfere with Maori customs, traditional and sacred practices. The Crown would violate both versions of the Treaty. It would take until now to begin the healing.

Tūhoe iwi “free” a national park 

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In Maori culture, mountains like those in Te Urewera are seen as male ancestors, while mist and all water forms are generally female.

Te Urewera, has always been the homeland of the Tuhoe  iwi. It is the essence of their culture, language and indentity.  The land and the people are inspeperable.  Once a national Park owned by the Crown, Te Urewera now has no owner. Tuhoe are known as the warrior tribe, the only iwi that never signed the Treaty of Waitangi.  Today they remain fiercely independent, proud and private.  Most live closely to the land in and around Te Urewera farming, ranching and hunting.

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Our guide Te Aho in front of the living building and offices of the Tuhoe Authority.

Meetings on Maori territory begin with the introduction of ancestors: the mountains you are from, the river, a greeting in the language of your heritage, where your family comes from…and then who you are. Similarly, they shared with us important ancestors whose pictures adorn the wall of their living building offices—the most sustainably advanced structure in New Zealand.   We sang the Native American women’s warrior song for our Tuhoe hosts before sitting for tea and questions. These personal revelations and protocols easily shift the dynamics of those gathered. It’s difficult to hide your heart when you humbly introduce yourself by way of your great-grandmother and prayerful song.

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Our delegation meets with Tuhoe iwi Authority Tamati Kruger (second from left), Te Urewera Treaty board member Lorna Taylor (middle) and Chief Executive of TUT Kirsti Luke (second from right).

For over two hours they graciously entertained our questions.  Chief among them:  how do they go from the tense relationship of colonization to brokering a deal that recognizes the spiritual wholeness of a mountain? Tamati Kruger,  chief negotiator of Tuhoe’s ground-breaking Treaty settlement told us that when negotiations began, the Crown had no intention of giving away title to the park. The Crown had a “To-Do” list and a budget with which to negotiate settlements with many tribes as part of the Waiting Tribunal process.

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Kristy Luke explains the negotiation process from the Tuhoe perspective.

“The Crown made a variety of suggestions over years of negotiations,” he said. “For several years we just listened. Some proposals would be [tribal] settlements from other countries.” Kirsty Luke, then a Tuhoe lawyer working on the settlement said “We’d go investigate the proposals and we’d find that when you talked directly to the affected, their communities often ended up worse off than when they began.”  They recounted stories of a tribe in Alaska who negotiated for a community freezer for storing fish, and ended up losing their traditional fishing practices after only one generation of reliance on the freezer.  “When we’d come back to the negotiating table with the Crown, we’d simply say, ‘no,’ and wait for the next proposal. They [the Crown] were married to ownership; first they proposed it would be tenant and landlord, and that did not suit us, or seats on the Park board,” said Tamati. Finally the Crown began to ask what was the Maori view.

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We met Huka Williams, who worked on the Settlement around traditional medicines and believes the Agreement is the first step in a 30-year process to sovereignty.

Ultimately what the Tuhoe wanted was to be truly reconnected with the land that holds their cultural identity.  Knowing the Crown would not cede ownership to the Tuhoe, Tamati’s team suggested that NOBODY retain ownership of the park land—rather, the land would own itself, recognized in law as a spiritual holistic entity in keeping with Maori cosmology. A new governance board of Crown and Tuhoe now ensures the rights of the ecosystem are protected.  These changes also shift more than just governance of the (former) national park, it is seen as a step toward sovereignty for the Tuhoe.

The Whanganui River from mountain to sea

20161108_172259“This river isn’t just water and sand. It is an ancestral being with its own integrity. This river is not the river that has been contended by the crown, that exists in compartments, its bed and its waters. It’s an indivisible whole that includes iwi so this concept of legal personhood is the nearest legal approximation to the way in which we relate to our people as being inextricably entwined to it and can never be alienated from it.” Gerrard Albert, chair of Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui.

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The Whanganui iwi are known as the River People to all, and often say “From the mountains to the sea, I am the river and the river is me.”

The Whanganui Agreement, expected to pass its final legislative reading by summer 2017 will be co-managed by the Crown and Whanganui Iwi, local government and community using the lens of Maori understanding of responsibility to the sacred rights of the river. The Whanganui River, which will also have the same standing under the law as Te Urewera, includes the path of the river from Mount Tongariro to the sea, a total of 180 miles.

IMG_0599We met with staff and leadership of the Whanganui Trust Board, who  welcomed and hosted us generously with a feast, a night together on the 100-year old meeting house, the Pungarehu Marae and a day-long meeting with negotiating lawyers, cultural and implementation staff and Whanganui elders.

The Whanganui iwi we met with along the River were happy to share their joy, hospitality and love of the River with us that is part of their physical being as an iwi.  They are known as the River People, and it is clear that the river is the source of their cultural identity. Led by our hosts from the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board, we took a boat trip down the River walked through the dense jungle alongside it, and felt the power of the land and its connection to the people.

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Movement Rights with Whanganui elders and members of the Maori Trust Board.

The 150-year struggle for the rights of the Whanganui River—the longest in Maori colonial history—began to gain momentum in the 1960’s with the election of Maori officials, and a growing sovereignty movement.   In 1995 the iwi began to occupy traditional land known as Pakaitore, which the Crown has made into a public park to commemorate military deaths from the 1864 Battle of Moutoa Island.  For several months the Maori came, prayed and occupied Pakaitore.  We met with Ken Meir, a celebrated leader of the occupation and Whanganui leader who explained that despite being evacuated from the site, something has shifted—for the iwi, the community and the Crown. “We left with the same dignity that we occupied our land, and knew that until the Crown settled our grievances we would stand to fight for our land, our river, and our people.”

In the years since, much has changed.  Hayden Turoa, Program manager Te Mana o Te Awa told us: “We didn’t so much see the Crown softening to our ideas, as we hardened (into our cultural traditions).” Negotiations with the Crown have given way to the next phase of the project which includes educating and bringing non-Maori residents along the river into the Maori world view in a way that allows everyone to be connected to it spiritually, holistically.

As the former mayor of the city of Whanganui Anette Maine, has said, the agreement isn’t just for Maori, but for the whole community. “What I have seen in the document is the ability for all of us to understand how we are connected to the river and why it is so important to our lives. … there is always a bit of a feeling that as non-Maori – Maori know something that we (as Pakeha) haven’t understood and I think this is a huge opportunity for us a community to understand that story.”

What comes next

IMG_0618Towering over the city of Wellington, we met with Paul Beverley, lead crown negotiator for both the Whanganui and Tuhoe settlements, in an office used to sign both the agreements.  We asked how the relinquishing of property has affected the mood of the Crown, businesses, regulatory agencies and the general population.  He told us that there was no panic at idea of ceding property, or the idea that land and water has rights. “What has been put in place is a very forward looking framework. I think we’re going to see a springboard for this type of thing. People are already taking next steps voluntarily.”

As Movement Rights legal director, Cabot Davis remarked,  “The thing thats beautiful about it is just how differently decisions will now be made.  Conflicts among people who want to ‘use’ the water or land will now have to take everyone else’s needs into account— first and foremost are the needs of the (river) system. Commerce and nature can coexist in a healthy way.”

800px-New_Zealand_-_Maori_rowing_-_8527Our journey was merely a first step for Movement Rights.  Our delegation’s purpose was to examine two truly revolutionary agreements between the Maori and the Crown government that recognize mountains, national parks and watersheds are not property to be owned, but are living ancestors to whom humans bear the responsibility of care.  We plan  to bring a full delegation of Indigenous, environmental leaders, legal scholars and others to Aotearoa in 2017/2018 to examine these agreements, share knowledge and find ways to incorporate these victories at the tribal, community and global level. We fully believe the lessons the Maori have to teach us are globally game-changing.

Conclusion: How do we win?  

Our Maori relatives remained focused on the relationships they have with sacred systems of life of which they are a part, not above nor below but within to achieve the remarkable Te Urewera and Whanganui Settlement Agreements.  It is important to remember that most, if not all, civil rights in the United States only came about from the grassroots rising up to ensure that their/our rights have been recognized.  From the thousands of people in the streets to ensure a Bill of Rights was attached to the US Constitution to the Abolutionists to the Suffragettes bravely asserting their rights, to Standing Rock and beyond, it has been the people rising up that ensure our rights are enshrined in the law.  Now, at this critical time in history when our actions will determine the future of generations to come, it is vital that we work together to create rights-based models like the Settlement Agreements to defend, protect and restore our relationship to the sacred system of life and the natural laws that govern that system. Its time for an environmental revolution that recognizes the rights of the Earth, and our responsibilities to uphold those rights.


Movement Rights pictured with Hine Kohu Morgan, our amazing delegation partner.
Movement Rights pictured with Hine Kohu Morgan, our amazing delegation partner.

Movement Rights gratefully acknowledge the financial support and shared vision of the Sacred Fire Foundation and The Cultural Conservancy, for their partnership in this first step toward deepening our understanding of how to incorporate key lessons globally, and with Indigenous communities we work with. We also acknowledge our amazing partner on the ground, Hinewirangi (Hine) Kohu-Morgan, who arranged meetings, ensured we were well supported with cultural training and a driver, Te Aho Paraha who provided additional cultural knowledge and explanations on the long drive across the country.

Movement Rights depends on your support to continue our vital work for rights. To make a donation to our ongoing work with the Maori visit our website. 

One way to Bring Standing Rock Home

By Movement Rights co-founders Pennie Opal Plant and Shannon Biggs

 

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Still bearing the arrest number Morton County police wrote on her arm, Casey Camp Horinek is comforted as news breaks of the halting of the DAPL. “My family can come home now. At least for a while.”

“It’s Time to Bring Standing Rock Home,” Movement Rights Board Member, and Ponca Elder, Casey Camp Horinek told a Summit of women in Kauai in early December 2016. “For too long it has been black and brown bodies always first to put their bodies on the line to protect rights. It’s time for everyone to come together to rise for the protection of local water, local air, soil and life. We are all Standing Rock. We must bring the essence of Standing Rock home wherever we live.” And we can win.

In the wake of the election, Movement Rights’ phone has not stopped ringing. Our email box is full. And the message is clear: people are ready to take a stand for rights and justice in the places where they live and to take local responsibility for the care of the Earth.

We have accomplished a lot in the two years since Movement Rights was founded and we’re proud to be on the cutting edge of a growing movement to advance the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Communities and Ecosystems. Our goals in 2016 were to recognize the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Mother Earth locally and globally; to work with communities who are ready to write their own rules for Main Street; and to highlight paths forward in creating a vibrantly healthy future with clean air, water and soil for generations to come.  We are excited to share with you what we have accomplished this year and our plans for 2017. It’s how we offer a way for communities to bring Standing Rock home.

Going LOCAL: It’s Time for Local Self Governance

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Not every step is a victory but reveals the truth about how the law often protects corporations not people. This photo taken before Humboldt County illegally stopped residents from placing an ordinance on the ballot.

In 2016 we met with local California groups in Humboldt, Marysville, Los Angeles county, Ojai, Richmond, Sonoma County, Napa County and more.  While the issues that brought them to our door were different—from forced pesticide spraying to clear cutting to fracking and water diversion—at the center of it all is the same struggle for justice in the law, the right to protect family and community.

forest-lungs-amputationIn early 2017 we are already committed to working with residents in the wine region of Sonoma and Counties to stand up to the powerful wine industry—to say “No” to the destructive clear-cutting of forests to plant vineyards, divert water, and poison local aquifers with heavy pesticide runoff.  But its not just to say no to wine making, but to change practices.  As local group Wine & Water Watch says, “dry farmed wines taste better and don’t ruin OUR aquifers.”  We will be holding Community Rights in Action trainings in February and March the first step toward placing the rights of ecosystems on the ballot in those counties this year.

Working Nationally for Mother Earth and Indigenous Rights

14702432_1140644946021111_1678195815010591114_nPonca, Oklahoma:  In October we were invited by Ponca Tribal Councilmember, Casey Camp-Horinek, to the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma.  Every single well on the Ponca reservation has been poisoned by the fracking industry which is visible at every turn near the reservation and surrounding farmlands.  We witnessed the leaking injection wells which had “produced water” (water filled with fracking chemicals and radiation) on the ground.  The air around these sites was so toxic that several in our group had to go back to sit in the car.

We had a full schedule which included a presentation to the Tribal Business Council on utilizing the Rights of Mother Earth to prevent more catastrophic harms by the fossil fuel industry.  We also worked with the community to conduct the first ever nonviolent direct action at the Conoco Phillips Refinery.   We also spoke at the Ponca Nation Community Center for a well-attended meeting on fracking and shared methods to assist the Ponca Nation in protecting themselves from the fossil fuel industry. For 2017 we will be going back for several actions including organizing a Rights of Mother Earth Tribunal on the fracking/fossil fuel industry similar to the case we presented in Paris last December.  These tribunals help to educate how we can shift laws to be in alignment with natural laws to create health, balance and a sustainable future.

Pua story at Waimea Rock imageMauna Kea, Hawaii In summer of 2015, Movement Rights visited Pua Case, the founder of Hawaiian Warriors Rising to hear about the struggle to protect the world’s tallest mountain, (measured from the sea floor) Mauna Kea, from the world’s most powerful 18 story on-land space observatory, known as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).  However, for many native Hawaiians it is the most sacred place in all of the islands.  The TMT represents an offense to Aloha ʻĀina, the love of land that is central to ancient Hawaiian cosmology and culture. Pua Case represented the spiritual rights of the Mauna in court from 2009-2015. “In court, we lost. Everytime. And we understood that would most likely happen,” says Pua with a gentle shrug.  “The courts are not set up for us, especially when money is involved.” The movement for “WE ARE MAUNA KEA” became global, with protectors holding prayerful vigil on the mountain as the tractors and machines came, and police arrested their neighbors. Fast forward to December 2016 where at a Women Summit sponsored by Coherence Lab on Kauai, Movement Rights met with Pua Case, who invited us to work with Hawaiian Warriors Rising and other partners to bring a Rights of Mother Earth lens to the struggle for the Mauna.

Global Action for the Earth

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Standing with elders and others Whanganui iwi involved in the historic settlement agreement that will liberate the Whanganui River.

Aotearoa (North Island, New Zealand) Movement Rights was quoted in The Guardian saying, “It’s the most revolutionary environmental legislation on Earth.”

Two geographic areas of Aotearoa will soon have the same standing under the law as human persons, with the addition of their sacred rights as the Maori understand them.  Te Urewera, which is currently a National Park in the Tūhoe iwi (tribe) territory, will become a legal person under the law in January, 2017.  It will no longer be considered property.  It will have a Maori Guardian and a Crown Guardian to speak on its behalf.

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Our delegation meeting with the Tuhoe leadership was inspiring and powerful.

We visited with Tūhoe tribal leadership, attorney and staff to understand the process that enabled this ground-breaking legislation to happen.  The Crown instituted a “settlement” process, similar to the treaties in the United States with Native American nations.  “Land is not property, said Tamati Kruger, chief negotiator of Tūhoe’s ground-breaking Treaty settlement. “The challenge was convincing the New Zealand Government of that. At first the government thought they’d offer us a seat at the table, seats on the Parks Commission or something. That was never going to happen.”

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The Whanganui River as seen from the “bridge to nowhere” a stop on our advance delegation.

We also met with the iwi of the Whanganui River, which will also have the same standing under the law as Te Urewera, and includes the path of the river from Mount Tongariro to the sea, a total of 180 miles. “This river isn’t just water and sand,” Gerrard Albert, chair of Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui told reporters. “It is an ancestral being with its own integrity.” The Whanganui Agreement, expected to pass its final legislative reading by summer 2017 will be co-managed by the Crown and Whanganui Iwi, local government and community using the lens of Maori understanding of responsibility to the sacred rights of the river. The Maori people we met with along the River were happy to share their joy, hospitality and love of the River with us.  We took a boat trip down the River, walked through the dense jungle alongside it, and felt the power of the land and its connection to the people. Lead Crown negotiator Paul Beverley told us, “What has been put in place is a very forward looking framework. I think we’re going to see a springboard for this type of thing. People are already taking next steps voluntarily.”

Movement Rights pictured with Hine Kohu Morgan, our amazing delegation partner.
Movement Rights pictured with Hine Kohu Morgan, our amazing delegation partner.

Our visit to Aoteoria was just the beginning. In 2017 we will be taking a delegation of Indigenous leaders from the Americas and others to Aotearoa to dive deeper in the understanding of the process of recognizing areas of land and water that are taken out of the realm of private property and into the realm of rights bearing entities.  Imagine a watershed and/or an area of land where you live no longer being private property, and having a legal recognition of it as a living being, with all the natural inhabitants being protected under the law in perpetuity.  We hope to bring Maori and Crown representatives to the agreement on Speaking Tour here in the US.

Next Steps 2017: Will you join us?

We understand that the current systems of law favor corporationsMovementRigts-Colour-sq-nc over the environment and people and that this
is an unsustainable system.  We also understand that these systems are new within the span of time that human beings have existed…only in the last 200 years or so. We understand that to shift this system that is destroying life requires healthy models to build upon.  Movement Rights is an organization of exploration and creativity in searchingout the best paths forward for a sustainable and healthy future.  We appreciate the many Indigenous models of science which exist within the natural laws of Mother Earth.   And, we need your support to help us to continue this exciting and vital work.

We invite you to put your energy, in the form of money, toward Movement Rights as we continue to work on creating the world that we all want to see.  Please make a donation to our vital work today. We can do this. We can shift where and how decisions are made. We can win. Join us today. 


 

Can Rights of Nature Help End Environmental Genocide on Ponca Lands?

By Movement Rights co-founders Pennie Opal Plant and Shannon Biggs

 

thThe wind blows powerfully in Oklahoma. It is part of the Great Plains and is also home to “tornado alley.” But today the state is known more for a human-made feature, a geological by-product of the petroleum industry: Oklahoma is the earthquake capital of the world. Ask anyone in the state if they had ever felt a tremor before fracking and injection wells became part of the northern Oklahoma landscape in the mid-2000’s and the answer is unequivocally, “NO.” Over Labor Day weekend, Ponca City and nearby Pawnee were the epicenter of the world’s largest manmade earthquake, registering a 5.8.

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photo credit Movement Rights

Rather than address the issue of fracking and its dangers, the Governor and state legislature passed two senate bills banning residents from banning or limiting oil and gas operations.  Movement Rights’ board member, Casey Camp Horinek a Ponca elder and elected Tribal Council member spoke at a 2015 Senate hearing, explaining how the Ponca people—who are concentrated on the south side of town where the refineries chemical plants and injection wells are largely sited—are being fracked to death:

“We’re now having a funeral a week from cancers and autoimmune diseases. In 2015 we had 907 quakes of a 3.0 magnitude and above. If the governor won’t call for a stop to fracking, the sovereign Ponca nation will.”

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Ponca Business Council members with Movement Rights co-founders and Tom Goldtooth of IEN following our presentation.

Movement Rights co-founders, Shannon Biggs and Pennie Opal Plant, along with Michael Horse, traveled to Ponca City and the Ponca Nation from October 14-16, 2016 to introduce Rights of Nature to the Tribal council, members of the Ponca Nation and non-native residents as a way to ban fracking and injection wells on tribal lands. Our trip there was full of joy and tears, inspiration and devastation.  Fracking sites and injection wells dot the landscape, and the telltale signs of leaking well pipes are easy to spot.   The tips of wheat fields are black-tinged, and there are dead areas in farm fields where nothing grows.  The day before we arrived, the Governor had proclaimed an “official day of prayer for the oil industry and the oil fields.” We were not sure what to expect when we arrived or how our visit would be recieved.

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Oily muddy water like this bubbles up from the ground all over Ponca City likely indicating pipe leaks below the surface. Photo credit Movement Rights.

While most Americans have now heard of fracking and its seemingly endless harms to the air, soil, water, climate, property values, human health and all life—injection wells are often less understood. Essentially it’s this: the millions of gallons of toxic fluid used in fracking, plus radioactive materials and metals found in the deep shale brought to the surface by the fracking process are too dirty, too dangerous to pour into rivers, aquifers, on to leave on land (though all of that happens). Injection wells cram that toxic stew back into the earth as storage, causing a slew of problems not the least of which are earthquakes. In 2015 Oklahoma even received 2.5 million barrels of injection wastewater from other states that deem it too dangerous to site.

In 1877, part of the Ponca Tribe was forced to leave their ancestral home in Nebraska on foot, to be resettled in northern Oklahoma.  About 20 years later, the City of Ponca, OK developed around the tribe, and today is home to 26,000 people including 3,500 members of the Ponca Nation. Over the next hundred years the economy of Oklahoma would be shaped by the boom and bust cycles of the oil industry.  The Ponca tribe has not benefitted from oil. They don’t have oil leases, and there are no oil jobs for the Ponca people despite being surrounded by oil infrastructure. Racism and harassment against the Ponca Nation is an open secret in the town that bears their name, with some businesses refusing to serve Ponca people, while welcoming other tribes who are invested in the oil industry.

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Pennie Opal Plant, Suzaatah Horinek and her daughter Lola, who were part of the 30 person organizing team making signs, handing out campaign shirts and other preparations for the prayer walk and the community event.

Despite this background, the Ponca Nation and local allies of the Nation were welcoming and interested in what Movement Rights has to offer, which is a way forward to stopping the devastation by recognizing the Rights of Mother Earth—the right of the land air, water and all life to be free from the toxic infrastructure.   Movement Rights’ board member and Ponca Tribal Councilmember, Casey Camp-Horinek, took us on a toxic tour after our presentation to the Ponca Business Council.

Pennie Opal Plant and Michael Horse live near the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California.  They are accustomed to occasionally smelling toxins come from that refinery and the other four refineries along the San Francisco Northeast Bay.  Shannon Biggs has traveled the world visiting toxic sites from South Durban South Africa to the oil and gas fields of North Dakota and Pennsylvania, but nothing prepared us for what we witnessed.  Driving past the Conoco Phillips refinery on the south side of Ponca City was an entirely different experience.   When the pungent and toxic smells hit us we immediately rolled up the windows on the car.   We could taste the toxins as they hit our systems and some of us had difficulty breathing.

There are homes and a park where children play directly across the street from this refinery.  And, of course, people of color and the working poor are the residents of the homes on the south side of town near the refinery. We saw uncountable fossil fuel holding tanks, more than any we had seen along the refinery corridor in the Bay Area.   Acres and acres—and acres—of huge tanks.

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DANGER Pipeline! Cows graze and drink polluted water. Photo credit Movement Rights.

We stopped at several injection well sites, mostly those that were the easiest to access just off the side of the road. Getting out of the car, the smell of chemicals curled in our noses, instantly shooting  into our heads like a toxic-ice cream headache. We witnessed the “produced water” leaking around the injection well machinery at every stop.  Produced water is a by-product of fracking which has undisclosed toxic chemicals, salt and radioactive materials  from the natural radiation and metals that live in the deep shale two miles below the ground surface.   We saw injection wells in agriculture fields of wheat and soybeans, onions and crops that are in many of the food products that we eat and assume are not poisoned.  We stopped at the place where the lower leg of the Keystone pipeline flows in the ground under where cattle graze, and drink from the open pits of toxic water above the pipeline.

14702432_1140644946021111_1678195815010591114_nOn Saturday, October 15th, we participated in a prayer walk, led by Casey Camp-Horinek, from a local park to the Conoco Phillips refinery.  About 60 people joined us—we were told this was the first direct action at this facility.  We circled up in front of the refinery for prayers for the community members, the refinery workers, the air, water and soil.  There were many families with children who participated and one woman came out of her home to join us.  Another women told us she keeps her pool filled with water (even though most pools are earthquake-damaged) to help out the local deer, coyotes and foxes who know not to drink from the rivers anymore.

People driving by honked their support and the Ponca City News gave us small but favorable  front page coverage. Yes, the time to shift the system from devastation toward health has arrived and we can’t assume that anyone is against us.   Even in this town with so much fossil fuel infrastructure there was a lot of support.  As we left, every single person on the prayer walk shook the hand of the police officer who was there to monitor us and to keep us safe.

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The Brown family farm, red circle indicates the field with an active injection well, one of 4 sites you can see from their porch. Photo credit: Movement Rights

A former oil worker, James Wesley Brown took us to his family homestead which has supported four generations of Brown farmers.  His daughter, Temperance, played on the swing about 100 feet from an injection well in the middle of their onion field.  “This land is not a wasteland, and I hope someday my daughter will farm on this land.” But right now he acknowledged, it’s a toxic mess.

He cranked some water from the hand pump next to the swing and suggested we cup our hands for a sip, laughing, He took a mouthful and immediately spit it on the ground. “They say it’s safe, but you can smell the gas in it, and some days you can light it on fire.” 

The members of the Ponca Nation and allies make many connections to the water protectors and land defenders at Standing Rock.  Casey Camp-Horinek’s family members have also been very involved on the frontlines in North Dakota.  Many of the homemade signs on the prayer walk were in support of the people protecting the water along the Missouri River.

After the prayer walk was the Movement Rights presentation at the community meeting at the Ponca Nation community center.   Native American actor, jeweler and artist, Michael Horse, most well-known for his role as “Deputy Hawk” in Twin Peaks, was the Master of Ceremonies.   Shannon spoke first about fracking and injection wells, their impacts on living beings, the earth, air, water and soil, as well as the effects on climate change and spoke about rights of nature as a legal tool.  Pennie spoke about the origins of the Rights of Mother Earth, Indigenous people’s original instructions on how to live within balance within the sacred system of life, as well as the importance of an immediate transition off of fossil fuels.  She shared examples of Native American communities which are working on renewable energy solutions on their territories such as the Firsts Nation’s Lubicon Solar Project and The Solutions Project which has the data which shows how each State can transition off of fossil fuels and on to renewable energy by 2050 while creating jobs that last 40 years.

Throughout our visit the sun was strong, and the wind blew mightily, iurreminding us that there are clean renewable options for Oklahoma. The state blows 6th highest for wind potential in the United Sates, offering a lasting economic energy strategy for the state. Even other states are investing in Oklahoma wind power.

What is happening in Ponca, Oklahoma and at Standing Rock, North Dakota is a SIGNAL, not simply a symbol.  It is time for all communities to stand for the protection of the Earth in the places where they live.  As Indigenous people rise up to protect the sacred system of life they are serving as a beacon to all of those who have been complacent while Mother Earth has suffered grave violations by members of our human family.   These violations are threatening the sacred system of life that is necessary for life to continue in any way close to what those alive right now have experienced.  There is not a moment to waste in our protection of the air, water and soil.  It is time to heed the call to action to preserve life as we know it.

I am River & blogAs Movement Rights travels to Maori territory in New Zealand next week we will be exploring a ground-breaking law to protect the sacred Whanganui River.  Keep an eye out for our next blog which will be full of inspiring stories of how the Maori people, working with the Federal Government of New Zealand, have not only recognized the spiritual and holistic rights of the River and the life within and around it to exist in a clean and healthy environment, but have also recognized the sacred rights of the River.


In memory of Betty Lee Brown who passed away on the family farm we visited on October 27 with her grandson, Wes Brown. 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Media Release: PONCA NATION CONSIDERS Rights of Nature FRACKING & INJECTION BAN

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 8, 2016

Contact:

Shannon Biggs, Movement Rights (415) 841.2998 Shannon@movementrights.org

Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Tribal Council (580) 716.7015 caseycamphorinek@yahoo.com

PONCA NATION CONSIDERS FRACKING & INJECTION BAN

Hosts Public Events October 15 to Explore ‘Rights of Nature’ Ban on Tribal Lands
t-shirt-designPonca City, OK – One month after the human-made 5.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Oklahoma, a growing number of residents are questioning whether fracking and injection wells are good for the state. Along with becoming the “Earthquake Capital of the World”, water contamination, cancers and air pollution have all been linked to the 30,000 active wells, compressors and processors statewide.

Despite mounting scientific data and public outcry, in 2015 state legislators passed two bills (SB 809 and SB 468) outlawing communities from banning or regulating fracking activities locally. Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca OK Tribal Council member, spoke at a Senate hearing before the bills were enacted, stating, “If the state refuses to protect residents from fracking and injection wells, the sovereign Ponca Nation will.”

Camp Horinek, who also testified on fracking at a Rights of Nature th-1Tribunal in Paris, France during the UN Climate talks last December has been working to make good on that promise enlisting rights-based group Movement Rights, BOLD Oklahoma, and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) to come to Ponca for a series of public events and private meetings with the Ponca Tribal Council. Says Camp Horinek, “All of the Ponca people who live within the area of the Conoco Phillips 66 refinery and the other fossil fuel extractive industries have family members who have cancer or who have died from cancer, or are suffering from autoimmune diseases such as lupus. It’s time to take a stand for our people and defend the Earth.”

Ponca tribal members, neighboring tribes and community members are all welcome to hear a presentation about how other communities, and most recently the Ho-Chunk tribal nation have recognized legal standing for ecosystems—also known as the rights of nature—to ban fracking activities.

Shannon Biggs, director of California-based Movement Rights says, “Dozens of US communities, a handful of countries and now the Ho-Chunk Nation have passed laws that stop treating nature as property to be destroyed, and recognize the right of ecosystems to exist and regenerate their vital cycles. They have used this new legal framework to protect their communities from harmful activities including fracking.”

tom-goldtooth-ron-memeTom BK Goldtooth, IEN Executive Director adds, “The Rights of Nature provides an ethical and spiritual relationship to the Earth, and places human law in balance with Natural Laws.” It’s time we all throw our support behind tribes fighting overreaching energy development, says Ariel Ross, Payne County resident: “Stop Fracking Payne County stands with the Ponca Nation for their right to decide what happens on their tribal lands.”

Two public events take place Saturday Oct 15:

Click here for more information or to make a donation. 


 

Lessons from #NoDAPL: We are More Powerful than the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Pennie Opal Plant, Movement Rights co-founder

Cover photo “Night time in Sacred Stone” (Oct. 2016) by Camille Seaman

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Sami delegation from the Arctic in Norway & Finland presenting gifts and yoiking at the Sacred Stone Camp, Oct 2016 Photo Credit: Camille Seaman

There is something powerful rippling through humanity right now.  It is more powerful than the fossil fuel industry that is harming the system of life that we need to simply exist.  It is more powerful than the government officials that have allowed these harms to be committed.  It is more powerful than the legal and economic  system that cultivates greed and consumerism.  This power is the spirit of remembering how we are to be on our beautiful Mother Earth.  This power is reminding us that even though many of our human family have been seduced by “shiny objects” that we ourselves have created; our true responsibility is to ensure the future of the unborn generations to come.

We are witnessing the culmination of Indigenous prophesies that are hundreds of years old.  Prophecies that spoke of the Eagle and the Condor reuniting after thousands of years—which refers to the Indigenous peoples of North America (represented by the Eagle) reconnecting with our Indigenous brothers and sisters of Central and South America (represented by the Condor) to work together.

The ancient prophecies of the 7th Fire and the the 7th Generation iupredicted the time would come after 7 generations of European settlement to Turtle Island when the waters, land and air would be so polluted that the animals and plants would become sick and begin to die.  The prophecies also say that when young Indigenous people will retrace their steps to find the Original Instructions and remembering the true responsibilities of being a human and help others remember that they too are Indigenous to Mother Earth’s belly, and that we must act now.  Prophesies of the Black Snake that would go across the land spilling poison, which Indigenous people understand are the oil pipelines that have already destroyed miles of many rivers including the Athabascan, Kalamazoo and Yellowstone Rivers.

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Havasupi delegation with Benjamin Conrad of the Wind River Arapaho, Sacred Stone Camp, Oct 2016 Photo Credit: Camille Seaman

Everyone who cares about what is happening to our climate and environment has been moved by seeing thousands upon thousands of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous allies living in tents, teepees and out of cars at the Sacred Stone Camp and overflow camps in North Dakota to protect the water by putting their bodies on the line of the Dakota Access Pipeline.   Caro “Guarding Red Tarantula Woman” Gonzales, a 26-year-old Standing Rock protector and co-founder of the International Indigenous Youth Council, told ThinkProgress, “When people are chaining themselves to bulldozers, that is prayer.”

Hundreds of people have been arrested or have risked arrest to protect the water in the Missouri River.  Protectors and Defenders have been bitten by attack dogs urged on by corporate private security.  The whole world is not only watching, but inspired to action, creating a growing stream of delegations to the camps.  Among the delegations this last week were the Saami from the Arctic Circle and the Havasupai from the Grand Canyon.  What is happening in North Dakota is powerful.  It is important.

But Standing Rock it is not just a single action, rather, It is a signal for people everywhere to take a stand in their communities for the health and safety of water, soil and air.  This great power is moving through us and it will only grow.

The Role for Rights of Mother Earth  

t-shirt-designIn mid October 2016, Movement Rights co-founders will be in Oklahoma to meet with members of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma  about how to recognize legal standing for ecosystems (rights of nature) to protect their citizens from fracking and injection wells. (You can donate to the Ponca campaign here.)

Injection wells forcefully insert toxic fracking wastewater deep into the ground and is the cause, along with fracking, of the thousands of earthquakes in Oklahoma.  The toxins from the fossil fuel industry have deeply impacted the Ponca Nation and have caused an epidemic of cancers, autoimmune and respiratory diseases.

According to Ponca Tribal Council member, Casey Camp-Horinek, who is also on the Board of Movement Rights, “All of the Ponca people who live within the area of the Conoco Phillips 66 refinery and the other fossil fuel extractive industries in the area have family members who have cancer or who have died from cancer, and/or who are suffering from autoimmune diseases such as lupus.”

Rights of Mother Earth (or nature) recognizes the right of ecosystems to “exist, persist and maintain their vital cycles.”  But while that may seem like common sense, it is actually a powerful legal tool to confront existing human law that “sees” ecosystems as property to be destroyed at will.  The concept was spelled out in the Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth and has been gaining momentum around the world in order to protect communities from the continued devastation of corporate greed. These ideas have been used by Ecuador, Bolivia, New Zealand, the Ho-Chunk Nation and many non-indigenous US communities to not only ban dangerous practices like fracking and injection wells, but also to write into law what is to be protected so that future generations can exist in an environment that is, hopefully, similar to the one which we have enjoyed in our lifetimes.  In the United States, rights of nature ordinances have been passed in over 80 communities.  It has been said that citizens of the United States live in a democracy, but, as the Director of Movement Rights, Shannon Biggs, is fond of saying, “If we can’t determine what happens where in the places where we live, then we don’t really have a Democracy—it’s time to rewrite the rules for people and the planet, not corporate profit.”

I am River & blog
The Whanganui Iwi (people) have been fighting for 150 years for the spiritual recognition of the river “Ko au te awa, Ko te awa ko au.” (I am the rover and the river is me).

In November of this year, Movement Rights will also be in New Zealand.   The Crown government of New Zealand, working with traditional Maori leaders, have recognized the rights of the Whanganui River and Te Urewera, a national park.  These two entities now have the same standing under the law as human persons.  This means that the “government gave up formal ownership, and the land became a legal entity with “all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” as the statute puts it.

Shannon Biggs and I will be meeting with Maori leaders and New Zealand government officials to lay the groundwork for taking a delegation of Indigenous and environmental leaders of the Americas to learn how these two revolutionary agreements came to be.  We are excited to begin to understand what it takes to recognize the rights of what is now called “ecosystems”, but is traditionally understood by Indigenous people as communities of life, no less significant than human communities.

Living in the San Francisco East Bay, not too far from the one of the largest estuaries in western North America, the San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta, I am excited about the possibility of working on recognizing the rights of this important body of water and all of the life it supports.  The Delta has suffered immeasurably from toxins introduced by the California Gold Rush, agricultural and chemical industry toxins, the siphoning off of its water for corporate agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley and populations in Southern California.  Imagine friends of the Delta being able to speak on its behalf in a court of law, speaking for the endangered Delta smelt, and being not only heard by the court, but actions to protect this magnificent being mandated by law. Earlier this year, Movement Rights and our partners at the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance held a Delta Rights of Nature Tribunal to showcase how this framework of ecosystem rights could apply to California’s most important waterway.

Movement Rights is working with communities to change the law of the land to understand that Mother Earth has inherent rights, the sacred system of life has inherent rights and that human beings are only a part of the system of life and must respect and restore it.  Mother Earth does not negotiate and the sooner our human family understands that, the sooner future generations will be safe from the idea that we can continue to destroy our home.

We live in powerful times with great responsibilities.  It is up to us to determine whether the lives of future generations will be viable.  It is up to us to imagine a future that is sustainable, healthy and safe for all of life as we know it and to act now to create that future.  It is time to push our own personal boundaries of what we are comfortable doing and step up to these responsibilities.  The people alive right now will either be seen as heroes who recognized our place in history, or as complacent and selfish people who did not care about the future generations.  It truly is time to choose.  I ask you to join us in our campaign to create the future we are envisioning.  It is beautiful.  Can you see it?

You can help fund Movement Rights and our trip to Oklahoma here: Ponca Nation Protects Mother Earth

 


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Movement Rights promotes community, indigenous, and nature’s rights by: 

Empowering communities to write new rules. Providing organizing and legal support, we assist communities confronted by harmful projects to pass new laws that place the right of residents (and nature) above corporate profit. Building a vibrant movement for the rights of nature. Through savvy media campaigns, deep education and organizing, Movement Rights is a leading advocate recognizing legal standing for nature. Advancing Indigenous rights and traditional knowledge. Our organizing, research and reports highlights that as the defenders of the most diverse places on Earth, Indigenous peoples have a leadership role to play in the transformation of our culture and law toward ecological balance.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

What would the Delta Say? Putting California’s Twin Tunnels on Trial

BARONA logo BARoNA-logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 22, 2016

Contact: 

Shannon Biggs, Movement Rights (415) 841-2998 shannon@movementrights.org

Linda Sheehan,  Earth Law Center (510) 219-7730 lsheehan@earthlaw.org

 Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta(209) 479-2053, barbara@restorethedelta.org

BAY-DELTA TRIBUNAL PUTS STATE & NATIONAL LEGAL SYSTEM ON TRIAL

California’s Proposed Twin Tunnels Case to be Heard


 th-1Antioch, CA – “What would the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem say?” is the question a panel of judges will consider when examining a case brought before them in the first-ever Bay Area Rights of Nature Tribunal based on an international rights of nature tribunal held in Paris during the climate talks last December. It’s a question gaining ground as dozens of U.S. and international communities and a handful of countries have begun recognizing rights and legal standing for ecosystems as a new framework for environmental protection. The tribunal will be held on April 30 at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center in Antioch, CA 9:30 AM-2 PM.

iur  The case being brought before the tribunal address nature’s, community, and human rights violations presented by Governor Brown’s water policies, and particularly his proposed Twin Tunnel plan, which would significantly reduce flows needed for Delta waterways and fish. The tribunal is being put on by the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (BARONA) —a network of organizations seeking to explore how recognizing legal standing for ecosystems can put new governance tools in the hands of communities.

save_the_delta_-_stop_the_tunnels_1In addition to detailing rights violations, Tribunal witnesses and experts will also offer solutions to water flow and economic development challenges that protect, not injure, human and nature’s rights. “We are pleased to work with BARONA to make the case for the San Francisco Bay-Delta,” says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director for Restore the Delta, a group that has been working to fight the governor’s plan and support sound water alternatives.“The Delta is an imperiled national treasure — a home for wildlife, fisheries, and human culture. After 30 years of over-pumping, the Delta Tunnels proposal would complete the destruction of the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas. Those who view the Delta as simply another water source to be drained are in for a fight. The people and wildlife of the Delta will not be erased.”

“The proposed project not only violate nature’s rights and human rights, but also illustrates that our laws legalize such harms,” adds Linda Sheehan of the Earth Law Center. “This Tribunal is about confronting a system of laws that places people and nature in harm’s way, and demonstrating a new way forward.”

Judges for the tribunal include: renowned eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, governmental liaison for the Winnemem Wintu tribe Gary Mulcahy, Movement Rights director, Shannon Biggs and others to be  confirmed.

Rights of nature is a global movement that has been named one of the Top Ten Grassroots Movements Taking on the World by Shift Magazine. International Tribunals in Paris, Lima and Quito have recognized nature’s rights, as has the Pope and other leading figures. “Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that the ecosystem—in this case the Delta itself—is a rights-bearing entity,” concluded Shannon Biggs, Director of Movement Rights, a group that assists California communities pass laws that place the rights of communities and ecosystems above corporate interests. “Mendocino County and Santa Monica have already recognized these rights in order to ban fracking and develop sustainability initiatives.”

This event is free and open to the public, but will require an RSVP. Donations encouraged. Please mark your calendars and join the growing movement for nature’s rights

 


MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights promotes community, indigenous, and nature’s rights. Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

Indigenous Peoples Standing up to Ecuador & Big Oil

By Pennie Opal Plant & Shannon Biggs, co-founders, Movement Rights


 

“We will fight oil until our last breath,” Manari Ushigua, president of the Zapara tribe (pictured with his sister, Gloria Ushigua) recently told journalists outside Ecuador’s Ministry of Strategic Resources. “Our spirit needs a healthy environment.”

 

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Imagine that you live in a place where all of your ancestors always lived.  Where you understood that the earth you were walking on was literally land made from the bones of those relatives.  Where food was so abundant there was no need for stores.  Where medicine for all of your illnesses grew in the form of plants all around you, your family and friends. Where there was no separation felt between you and the water, the air, or the trees.  Imagine that you knew and understood the language of the forest, of all of the animals, and that you understood with every breath that you are a part of this very sacred system of life.

Now, the hard part. Imagine it is all being destroyed by fossil fuel extraction.

img_0745You have probably heard the statement that, “Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of climate change.” Its not just an expression. Living close to the Earth in a globalized world seeking “endless more” makes indigenous people vulnerable to the last gasp of the fossil fuel era.

Unfortunately, there are many examples of this which include the Beaver Lake Cree First Nations people whose territory includes the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, the Wangan and Jagalingou Aboriginal people in Queensland, Australia who are battling the government’s decision to allow a coal mine on their territory which would destroy their homes and sacred places, or members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Nation in Louisiana who just became the first official climate refugees in the United States.

 A new development in the fossil fuel destruction of indigenous lands is what is happening now in Southern Ecuador to the Kichwa people of Sarayaku.  The people of Sarayaku have been battling to keep oil extraction out of their territory for decades.

For a while, there was some good news.  In 2007, President Correa initiated a proposal to protect Yasuni National Park with a proposition to world governments to contribute $3.6 billion.  Yasuni is considered to be the most biodiverse place left on Earth. Even though the majority of Ecuadorians supported the Yasuni ITT Initiative, in 2013 President Correa scrapped it blaming lack of contributions by world governments.

Under the leadership of President Correa, Ecuador became the first nation in the world to write into its Constitution the Rights of Mother Earth in 2008, recognizing legal standing for ecosystems to “exist, persist, and regenerate their vital cycles.” This news was celebrated around the world by people who were hopeful that Ecuador was setting an example that other nations would follow. Unfortunately, President Correa has turned his back on the Rights of Mother Earth, and the peoples of the Amazon.

The people of the Amazon need our help to stop oil today. 

Fast forward to 2016: In January, President Correa signed deals with three fossil fuel extraction corporations from China to explore for oil on Sarayaku territory.  This is the ancestral territory of the Sápara and Kichwa people of Sarayaku. They did not give their consent to this exploitation of their territory and have vowed to resist in defense of their rights, territories, living forests and our global climate. This land, comparable in size to the state of Vermont, located in the remote Sur Oriente in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon has been largely untouched, owing to the protection offered by the tribes who live there and consider it sacred.  

Last year, Ecuadorian indigenous organizations asked China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang to visit their territories in effort to stop the project, noting that in his own country, he promised to use an iron fist to “punish companies that violate Chinese environmental regulations,” and boldy stated that “fostering a sound ecological environment is vital for people’s lives,” and that pollution is “nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.” Yet oil development is poised to begin in this land of beauty and proud people who have been taking care of some of the Earth’s most biologically diverse places.

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca, Oklahoma) and Gloria Ushigua Santi (Sapara, Ecuador) standing in mutual solidarity in Paris for the COP 21 (in front of their respective portraits by Mona Caron. Casey will be in Ecuador in march 2016 to stand with her sisters

Oil development will mean the death of this place, of the spirit of the land and the peoples who have defended and protected it since the beginning.  Our Kichwa sisters and brothers need our help. They have been struggling for so long to keep their territory safe.  Next week the women of Sarayaku will be conducting a women’s assembly to discuss what to do to keep their homes safe.  Details here. Women from various nationalities, including Kichwa, Sapara, Waorani, Shuar and Achuar will be gathering in the Amazon city of Puyo for a march, press conference and assembly on International Women’s Day. They will be joined by indigenous and NGO allies from the Andes and North America. The women have recently gathered, but have not marched together in many years. Movement Rights board member, Casey Camp Horinek will be there as part of a WECAN women’s delegation to stand with the women of Ecuador.

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, they will march through Puyo to stand up for the life of their land. There are many ways to support their action—wherever you are.

SOLIDARITY ACTIONS IN SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area we will be conducting a solidarity action with them on the same day.  We are meeting at the Chinese Consulate located at 1450 Laguna Street from 10:00 a.m. to at least 1:00 p.m.  A letter will be hand-delivered on that day to Consulate officials.  If you can, please join us. Details: We Stand With Sapara Women

 CALL THE CHINESE CONSULATE ON MARCH 8

If you cannot join us, please call the Chinese Consulate in your area on March 8th.  The San Francisco Consulate phone number is (415) 852-5900.  We ask that you be respectful in your comments.  The blame is not on individual people, but on the system that the United States has exported around the world which puts profits over the lives of people and which has allowed us the luxuries that we take for granted.

SIGN THE PETITION: support Sapara women & Indigenous Rights

The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), in concert with the Sapra and Kichwa women’s statements has put together a petition to let Ecuadorian and Chinese officials know the world is watching. The goal is 3,000 signatures but it would be great to have many more: Sign the Petition to Support Sapara Women   Please sign and share with your friends.  Our friends in Ecuador need our help.  Please do what you can.

When we stand together we are strong.  Let’s be STRONG.

For more information and to keep updated about ongoing fossil fuel issues in South America please go to Amazon Watch.


MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights promotes community, indigenous, and nature’s rights by: 

Empowering communities to write new rules. Providing organizing and legal support, we assist communities confronted by harmful projects to pass new laws that place the right of residents (and nature) above corporate profit. Building a vibrant movement for the rights of nature. Through savvy media campaigns, deep education and organizing, Movement Rights is a leading advocate recognizing legal standing for nature. Advancing Indigenous rights and traditional knowledge. Our organizing, research and reports highlights that as the defenders of the most diverse places on Earth, Indigenous peoples have a leadership role to play in the transformation of our culture and law toward ecological balance.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

 

The Paris COP21 failure demonstrates climate justice lies beyond the “Red Line”

 By Shannon Biggs with Pennie Opal Plant

 Movement Rights co-founders Shannon Biggs and PennieEiffel Pennie Shannon Casey Opal Plant were in Paris for the COP 21 climate events, and to promote grassroots alternatives to the current UN process including co-producing a report on Rights of Nature, co- hosting a beyond-capacity Rights of Nature tribunal that turned away over 1,000 people, co-leading a ceremony for the signing of an international Indigenous Women’s Treaty for Mother Earth, among many other actions, interventions and activities, very often led by our board member, Indigenous leader and Ponca elder, Casey Camp Horinek (pictured). 


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Indigenous “Red Line” leaders denouncing Climate Deal; including Kandi Mossett & Casey Camp Horinek (center), Faith Gimmel & Pennie Opal Plant (right). Photo Credit: Indigenous Rising

If you’ve been confused by the conflicting reports of the success COP 21 negotiations, you’re not alone. On the final day of the UN climate talks, President Obama issued a statement boasting words the nation, the ministers from 196 negotiating countries and the world wanted to hear: “We met the moment.  We came together around a strong agreement the world needed.” The mainstream media quickly heralded the final agreement as The world’s Greatest Diplomatic Success,’ and “Big Green” environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Avaaz and others blogged that while it may not be the war, as far as the battle, “WE WON.”

Reports of victory (or the whiff of a qualified victory) quickly flooded the internet. Yet standing on the streets of Paris on December 12—lined with over 10,000 people carrying red tulips and unfurling giant red ribbons defying the ban on demonstrations and condemning world leaders’ failure to put forward a meaningful, binding agreement—we puzzled. Were we at the same summit? From the red line action on the outside, many justice activists, economists, experts, NGO participants and Indigenous leaders had a very different take on the outcome. Former Bolivian climate negotiator, Pablo Solon told Democracy Now! “The Paris Agreement Will See the Planet Burn.” That is if it is ever even implemented.

So what does the Paris Agreement say that is creating the division of opinions?

 A Quick Guide to the Paris Agreement

  • The Paris Agreement promises to hold global average temperatures below 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit)  from pre-industrial levels without a blue-print for action. Even if this goal is met, scientists warn it is already a “prescription for disaster,” But meeting this goal—while not impossible—is unrealistic given where we are and our continued reliance on fossil fuels.  Current emissions are on track to reach a 4° rise by 2100, and without a radical plan for immediate change, 2° may be impossible to achieve.  Add to this the Paris Agreement says absolutely nothing about how countries can or will work to reach this target over the next 20 years.
  • Bad Math: Country Commitments add up to a 3° rise in temperature. As reported in CounterPunch: “The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in Paris (which, under U.S. pressure, cannot be enforced through treaty language) will lead to a 3 degree planet by 2050 if not sooner.”
  • To reach 2° we must leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground—yet the Paris Agreement lacks a plan or the current or future political will to do it. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years,’
    Decarbonize
    Photo: Shannon Biggs

    leading climate scientist James Hansen told the Guardian, adding:

    “It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.” 

    No country promised to “keep it in the ground”, rather the agreement seeks to “check in” on progress every five years.   A good analysis of all of this can be found from 538 Science. 

  • The Paris Agreement reinforces the false solutions of carbon markets and the financialization of nature.   This agreement is in favor of carbon trading schemes that continue to allow pollutersindigenous-press-conference-art to pollute by purchasing carbon credits in other parts of the world.  And, in violation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples (who are now only briefly mentioned in the preamble of the agreement), it promotes REDD and REDD+.  These are carbon trading schemes which permit indigenous peoples to be evicted from the forests they have been caretaking for thousands of years.  This climate agreement is being called a trade agreement by some because it continues to support the “endless more” system that has brought us to the brink of catastrophic climate change. As Movement Rights’ Shannon Biggs and IEN’s Tom Goldtooth state in a new Paris report:

COVER RONME-SowingSeeds“The climate Ponzi scheme of trading of air, water, trees, soil, and biodiversity along with false solutions of carbon capture, genetically modified organisms, geoengineering, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, agrofuels, fracking, nuclear projects and energy generation from incineration—all these will do more harm than good to Mother Earth.” Yet this is the basis for the Paris Agreement.

  • Indigenous Rights have been removed from the acting text of the agreement.  Indigenous and forest peoples hold legal entitlement to 1/8 of the world’s forests, and protect about 80% of the world’s biodiversity. These are front-line communities that are the defenders of the Earth, and the stabilizers of the climate.
    Canoe Paris
    Indigenous Peoples flank the bridge standing for their rights in a canoe action in Paris, one of many indigenous-led actions. (Photo: Shannon Biggs)

    Recent studies show that ensuring rights for these communities would avert billions of tons of C02 emissions annually.   As Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network and co-editor of the Rights of Nature report said in Paris “We, Indigenous Peoples, are the red line. We have drawn that line with our bodies against the privatization of nature, to dirty fossil fuels and to climate change. We are the defenders of the world’s most biologically and culturally diverse regions. We will protect our sacred lands.”

It is abundantly clear that the countries most responsible for climate change are those which have continued to derail the climate talks over the 21 years that the United Nations Conference of the Parties has gathered. This includes the United States which is at the top of the list of countries that have historically emitted the most greenhouse gasses and continues to be a leading emitter.

Once again, these UN Climate Talks have failed the sacred system of life, preferring to support the capitalist system that is destroying our ability to exist.

Transparency?  Unfortunately, no.

As in the past, climate negotiators met behind closed doors at COP 21 in Paris, not allowing civil society members to be in the room, and many deals are made in even more secret rooms  between just a handful of countries, and then presented to the delegates.

 So who is celebrating and why?

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Delegates give themselves a standing ovation. Photo credit ens newswire.com

The standing ovation for a flimsy agreement from the delegates “inside” is easy to understand. Certainly the corporate sponsorship of the negotiations themselves speak volumes.  As Cindy Weisner of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance told Common Dreams before the COP:

“[the] announcement of the corporate sponsors of the COP21 exposes the deep contradiction in UN COP process and their cozy relationship with the very corporations who are driving the climate crisis.

“The effort of these corporations to green-wash their ongoing damage of the planet in order increase profit and gain public support is offensive.”  The willingness of the mainstream media to embrace a false victory is easy to understand in two words “corporate ownership”.

And as for the mixed reactions from the environmental/climate movement? Paris revealed the divide that exists between groups that consider themselves part of the environmental or climate justice movements, and the larger and less radical environmental groups. The Big Greens find that the national targets provide something to push against when everyone goes home, a way to hold politicians’ feet to the fire. There was some pressure for smaller groups to support the agreement as at least a toe-hold for change, or risk being marginalized as unreasonable. But justice-based groups either are—or see themselves are directly responsible to—front-line communities, indigenous peoples and the rights of Mother Earth.

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Movement Rights co-founder Shannon Biggs (along with some 30 other activists and indigenous leaders) publicly confronting California governor Jerry Brown in Paris for planning a state-led REDD initiative and embracing fracking as climate solutions. (Photo Credit: Rae Breaux)

For those of us who count ourselves in the latter category, there is no happy compromise if it comes at the expense of land defenders, so-deemed “sacrifice communities” and the resilience of the Earth that nurtures us. In this fine print of this agreement we see the fearful faces and uncertain futures of people we know, people whom we have pledged to stand to defend.  There can be no celebration as world leaders promise to slow the rate of destruction, while recommitting to a path that ensures the destruction of their ways of life and future generations.

 So what can we celebrate?  The rise of the rights and justice movements.

While climate negotiators were meeting behind closed doors tens of thousandsEiffel Climate action of people gathered  in the streets to show that climate action will emerge from the grassroots.  Targets won’t be “parts-per-billion” but closer to home at the source—at polluting factories, GMO crops, oil trains, fracking and other places where carbon and methane are emitted.    There were at least two tribunals: The International Rights of Nature Tribunal and the Tribunal on “The People vs. Exxon Mobile.”   There were prayer ceremonies, a canoe action with Indigenous people speaking out for the water, two separate official events for Indigenous women to sign the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty Compact, daily direct actions and meetings of Indigenous people from around the world.

There was moving testimony by many Indigenous people during the Rights of Mother Earth Tribunal, which began with Movement Right’s board member, Ponca elder, Casey Camp-Horinek.  She opened the Tribunal with this statement: caseycamp

“What we have forgotten is to give back…we think that exchanging money or paying the bill with a plastic card somehow makes us even in this exchange.”

“But here today, we’re going to exchange the knowledge from both the natural world way, from the viewpoint of the Indigenous Peoples, from the viewpoint of the scientists, from the viewpoint of the law makers, from your heart, from your spirit to those spirits around you.  We‘re going to share the knowledge of ‘rights of nature’  And, you should know.  Aren’t you part of her?”

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Shannon Biggs presenting fracking as a “Rape of the Earth” at the Paris Rights of Nature Tribunal.

Shannon Biggs facilitated the case of fracking around the world at the Rights of Nature Tribunal, introducing front-line community experts including Kandi Mossett, an indigenous environmental activist and member of the tribal-nation community of Fort Berthold Three Affiliated Tribes of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara in North Dakota.  Casey Camp-Horinek was also a witness, testifying about the pain that “fracturing the skeleton of Mother Earth” is causing in her community in which an average of one person a week is dying from the results of fracking and other fossil fuel related crimes. The tribunal included over 80 voices from around the world and was for many, an important highlight and a way forward for a new Earth jurisprudence and culture for living in balance with the earth. Over 1,000 people were turned away at the door of the tribunal which was also live streamed.

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Pennie Opal Plant reads the treaty while Casey Camp Horinek prepares the treaty pipe. (Photo: Shannon Biggs)

There was much excitement about the Indigenous Women of the Americas – Defending Mother Earth Treaty Compact.  This Treaty calls on all who support it to conduct direct actions at the places where decision makers are allowing the harms to occur, as well as the locations where the harms are occurring. There was a formal Indigenous ceremony that took place on December 6th with many Indigenous women from the Americas signing the treaty and many non-Indigenous women signing as witnesses.  There was a less formal treaty signing later in the week.   Pennie Opal Plant gave a briefing about the Treaty while speaking on the WECAN panel.

What must we do to ensure a safe and healthy future?  It is obvious that those who should be protecting us have failed.  It is up to us to decide what happens where we live and what happens upstream from our water source. We must support the rights of indigenous peoples, communities and ecosystems.  We must insist on our power as communities to declare that we are taking the decision making authority back regardless of who says we can’t.  We must rise up collectively to support one another and to join together as often as possible to ensure a safe and healthy world for ourselves, future generations and our non-human relatives who have no voice.  It is, truly, up to us to save the world.


 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

Rights of Nature report released for Paris Climate Talks

 By Tom B.K. Goldtooth and Shannon Biggs, editors of the new report Rights of Nature & Mother Earth: Sowing seeds of resistance, love and change.  This report is a joint publication by Movement Rights, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Global Exchange, released for the UN Climate talks in Paris.  Providing both a critique of the UNFCCC process and an alternative system of environmental protection, the report  includes contributions by Dr. Vandana Shiva (India), Maude Barlow (Canada), Pablo Solon (Bolivia), Alberto Acosta (Ecuador), Cormac Cullinan (South Africa) and many other luminaries. 


 

COVER RONME-SowingSeedsL’humanité et la nature sont un.  الإنسانية والطبيعة واحدة. Humanity and nature are one.  In the wake of the violence in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq and around the world, we are reminded that not only are we one people—but humanity and all nature are one.  It is time to seek peace and justice for humanity and Mother Earth.

 While billed as the most important climate meeting ever held, the next generation will not look back on the Paris COP 21 as the historic moment governments took decisive action on climate change.

The modern world is removed from nature. A world without a living knowledge of its spiritual  relationship and responsibilities to the creative principles of the natural laws of Mother Earth, results in our planet  become property, without a soul, to be owned and sold. Nearly everywhere, the legal paradigm of laws protects the ownership of nature, so it is not surprising that the UN climate negotiations are rooted in the continued privatization of ecosystems and putting a price tag on the processes of the natural world.

The predictable failure of the Paris UNFCCC negotiations has been 20 years in the making. The climate Ponzi scheme of trading of air, water, trees, soil, and biodiversity along with false solutions of carbon capture, genetically modified organisms, geoengineering, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, agrofuels, fracking, nuclear projects and energy generation from incineration—all these will do more harm than good to Mother Earth. As Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey has said, “The outcome is already known: a package of non-binding promises and non-commitments.  It will be another carbon stock exchange.”

Changing our relation to the sacredness of Mother Earth

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Tom Goldtooth and Shannon Biggs on the streets of Durban, South Africa during the UN climate COP17

Rather than mourn the loss of international political leadership on climate change to the peddlers of extractive capitalism, its time to acknowledge where the real power to create change lies, and what Paris might be remembered for.

The next generation could look back on Paris as the time when grassroots movements became the real and rightful leaders on climate with searing critiques of capitalism and endless growth and a transformative solutions based on equity, and living in balance with natural laws.

Climate change itself is the Earth’s demand for human system change; it is a wake up call to shake off old ways that got us here, and to create vibrant local living economies respectful of the living cycles of Mother Earth and Father Sky.  It means shifting the legal landscape that has propped up industrialization by treating ecosystems as property to be owned and destroyed.

Rights of nature define legal rights for ecosystems “to exist, flourish and regenerate their natural capacities.” These laws challenge the status of nature as mere property and while not stopping development, recognizing legal rights of nature stops the kind of development that interferes with the existence and vitality of ecosystems. It provides a legal framework for an ethical and spiritual relationship to the Earth and the Sky. And its been growing at the local and national level around the world.  In the last decade, three countries and dozens of communities have passed laws recognizing “legal standing” for ecosystems.

This report “Rights of Nature & Mother Earth: Sowing seeds of resistance, love and change” isn’t just a challenge to the UN climate framework.  It is a call for Earth’s real revolution, a reawakening of the Sacred, and a legal framework to support real system change based on the inalienable rights of nature – of Mother Earth—of which our own human rights and the fate of humanity cannot be separated. L’humanité et la nature sont un.

Derechos-de-la-NaturalezaTORREAmong many activities planned in Paris, both Shannon Biggs and Tom Goldtooth will be participating in the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature  (Dec 4-5), where they will be joined by contributors to this report and 20 other respected international Indigenous, grassroots, and climate change leaders  showcasing this alternative framework for protecting ecosystems.  The Tribunal is sponsored by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, an international network designed to promote Earth Rights movement at the local, national and international level.


 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncShannon Biggs is the co-founder and Executive Director of Movement Rights, advancing legal rights for communities, indigenous peoples and ecosystems.  She has been a senior staffer at Global Exchange and the International Forum on Globalization, and is the co-author and editor of two books including “The Rights of Nature, the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Nature.” She is also a founder of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature.  She holds an MSc. from the London School of Economics (LSE) in Economics and the Politics of Empire.

th-1 Tom B.K. Goldtooth is the Executive Director of The Indigenous Environmental Network, a network of indigenous communities worldwide. He is a leader of environmental and climate justice issues and the rights of Indigenous peoples. He is a board member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature.  In 2015 he received the Gandhi Peace Award, and is also co-and producer of an award-winning documentary Drumbeat For Mother Earth, which addresses the effects of bio-accumulative chemicals on indigenous communities.

 

 

Would you Bulldoze Your Own Temple?  Native Hawaiians Stand for a Mountain

By Shannon Biggs, co-founder and director, Movement Rights

 

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Night sky from Mauna Kea, Hawaii

They say that Hawaii is Earth’s connecting point to the rest of the Universe.  Telescopes—those located on Earth and those in orbit—have allowed us to see deep into the galaxy and to the edges of the universe, sparking our scientific imagination. Owing to its low light pollution, its remoteness and sheer height, some astronomers consider Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii, an ideal place to build the world’s most powerful on-land space observatory, known as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).  However, for many native Hawaiians (and non-natives alike) Mauna Kea is far more than a convenient place to construct an 18 story telescope—it is the most sacred place in all of the islands.  The TMT represents an offense to Aloha ʻĀina, the love of land that is central to ancient Hawaiian cosmology and culture.

Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain on Earth measured from the sea floor, stands in the center of a fierce battle between the values of modern scientific discovery (backed by the intProtectorsNotProtesters-300x235ense political and financial might of several countries) and the values of Hawaii’s traditional and spiritual stewardship of this sacred place (backed by a growing international movement of “protectors” fueled by social media).

Construction of the TMT entails blasting a several-stories hole in the Mauna the size of a 50,000 seat football stadium, and placing endangered species and the fragile ecosystem at further risk. There are already a dozen older, smaller observatories on the mountain, many of which are obsolete, but none of which rival the intrusion represented by the TMT. Funding for the $1.4 billion project comes from Canada, China, India, Japan and the US.

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The first arrests on Mauna Kea were emotional for many on both sides.

In recent years, a growing number of protectors began holding a constant presence, conducting ceremonies and holding vigil directly opposite the visitor’s station on Mauna Kea. Protectors point out that eventually the TMT will also be obsolete.  Even now, a larger observatory is being planned in Chile, and undeniably the best images of the universe already come from satellites in space. While Mauna Kea may be an ideal location, it is not the only possible choice. Regardless, all of the legal hoops were jumped or otherwise eliminated, making way for construction of the TMT in March, but plans were delayed by the first confrontation between police and those standing vigil on the mountain, resulting on the arrests of 31 protectors on April 7 2015.

Then on June 24, in a showing of traditional Hawhawaii-maunakea-telescopeaiian solidarity and self-determination not seen since the US annexation of the islands in 1897, 750 people peacefully blocked the path of construction machinery. Protectors formed 24 separate lines of resistance across the road.  Police made arrests at each blockade, allowing the trucks to inch forward, until they met with a blockade of boulders, at which point they turned back.

Back in September 2014  like most people living outside Hawaii, I was unaware of this epic clash between money, science and the sacred. Having made the pilgrimage to New York City with hundreds of thousands of people for the world’s largest climate convergence, I found myself speaking on a panel of mostly Native Americans discussing our work for rights of nature—a new legal and cultural framework for environmental protection that recognizes legal standing for ecosystems. Near the end of the panel, a woman I had never met stood, introducing herself as Pua Case, a Mauna Kea protector.  She said she didn’t know o-MAUNA-KEA-PROTEST-facebookanything about legal standing for rights of nature, but that she had gone to court on behalf of the spiritual rights of Mauna Kea, home to many Hawaiian deities, including Wakea, the Sky Father and the thunder beings, and the said burial site of Hawaiian people’s most sacred ancestors.   She looked around the room and asked, “Would you bulldoze your own temple? Because that is what is happening where I come from.”

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Solidarity events popped up around the globe, including some unlikely places.

Pua Case related her story to a rapt room—telling of her home in Waimea, that sits in the shadow of Mauna Kea.  She told us of the sacred rain rock, or pohaku, in Waimea where her community prays—and upon which in 2009, the goddess of the lake on Mauna Kea appeared to her then 11-year old daughter, Kapulei—prevailing upon the young girl to relay a message to her mother to ‘please try to stop the building of the telescope.’

“What telescope?” Pua asked her daughter.

And so the several-year struggle began.  Through the chaos of New York’s climate week and home, I carried with me Pua’s story. Over the next months, the story of the #WeAreMaunaKea protectors exploded globally via twitter and Facebook, and ultimately compelled me to visit Mauna Kea and Pua Case.

 When the World Was Flat

Like much of traditional knowledge, ancient astronomy was discarded as “primitive” only to be later “(re)discovered” as science using acceptable western technologies. Hundreds of years before Captain Cook sailed to Kealakekua Bay bringing spyglasses, compasses and the like, knowledge of the night sky was already deeply imbedded in Hawaiian culture.

In fact, while Europeans were still arguing over whether or not the earth was flat, as early as 300 AD Polynesian and Hawaiian navigators were circumnavigating the globe in double-hulled canoes using their knowledge of the stars.

Peter Apo, a sitting trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, owner of a consulting company for the tourist industry and a proponent of the TMT project sites this scientific history as a reason to move forward with the project.  “The construction of the [TMT] represents one of the greatest quests for knowledge in the history of mankind,” Apo has said.  “Arguments that this project constitutes a grievous cultural and religious injury to Mauna Kea seem to fly in the face of historical practices by Hawaiians. The search for knowledge has always been fundamental to Hawaiian society.”

And while star gazing and other scientific knowledge has been historically important in traditional Hawaiian culture—it is connected to the spiritual beliefs and creation stories that spell out humanity’s intimate relationship with the rest of the natural world.  Lorilani Keohokalole-Torio, a teacher, artist and advocate for ancestral teachings, believes the struggle isn’t about being agaiiunst science. “With opposition coming from all sides, the many facets of the movement now has been to take all the issues we are faced with and find balance.  … It’s about Kapu Aloha … taking responsibility for one’s actions.” As Case explains, for the protectors holding vigil Kapu Aloha specifically “dictates how one conducts themselves on the sacred temple, that which is the mountain itself … an order of behavior interwoven into the highest dignity and respect, to carry oneself as if their ancestors were standing amongst them.” An ancient proverb He ali‘i nō ka ‘āina, ke kauwā wale ke kanaka [The land is the chief, the people merely servants] demonstrates the spiritual and moral obligation to protect Hawaiian ecosystems.

Unlike western science, often undertaken in white lab coats and sterile petri dishes, ancestral knowledge is not divorced of morality and connection with the earth or the Sacred.  That science, (itself a western word) in the hands of indigenous peoples is often discredited by “modern” scientists isn’t a sign of progress—but hardwired remnants of colonization and dominion over nature, people and knowledge. Francis Bacon himself, the father of the Scientific Method wrote that his “only earthly wish is to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe” by “putting her (nature) on the rack and extracting her secrets.”

In terms of understanding nature—many of the secrets Bacon and today’s TMT scientists seek to unravel have been well understood by traditional peoples guided by Earth-based spirituality that sees humans not as owners of nature, but rather in relationship with the natural world. As Tom Goldtooth, director of the Minnesota-based Indigenous Environmental Network has said, “I believe that as Native people, we are the land and the land is us.” Goldtooth, also an advocate of Rights of Nature  continued to say,

“Those of us in the environmental justice movement have started to educate the larger environmental movement that our work protecting the environment is spiritual work. When we talk about the environment, very often we are talking about sacred elements. We’re talking about air, which is a gift from the Creator.”

 The Sacred science of the Pohaku

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Pua Case standing next to the pohaku in her home of Waimea, HI (Photo: Shannon Biggs)

Pua Case is among many things, the founder of Hawaii Warriors Rising, part of the international indigenous Idle No More movement. After clearing the debris and placing fresh leis as offerings on the pohaku at Weimea, with cars whizzing past on the highway just beyond a slim row of trees, I watched as Pua Case offered a prayer to the beings that dwell on what a visitor could be forgiven for identifying as an ordinary rock. There are no markers other than the leis to indicate the specialness of this place.

“My child was open,”  says  Case of her daughter’s ability to see and communicate with the water being warning of the impending TMT. “She had not ‘learned’ [to reject  spiritual connection with nature], her mind was not colonized.” She explained that Mo’o I Nanea is the name of the water spirit of Lake Waiau near Mauna Kea’s summit that comes down from the summit occasionally to sunbathe on the Waimea pohaku.  The truth of Kapulei’s visions were never a question for her or for her community.

“These are the things we know.  The things we keep secret.  And today, it is not for me to worry about where you are at or whether you believe—whether this sounds like a fairy tale. We’re not trying to convince you if what we say is true. We’re standing for a mountain.  We can no longer keep our stories secret.”

For Case, initially what she felt was fear.  “What would it mean to stand for the mountain?  What about my job?” she recalls asking herself.  “What about the jobs? What about my safety, would I have to go to court? What if no one stood with me?”

From 2009 to 2015 six petitioners including Pua and her family (the Flores-Case ‘ohana) entered into a court case, with The Flores-Case ‘ohana acting on behalf of the spirit world and Mo’o I Nanea, the water spirit. “In court, we lost. Everytime. And we understood that would most likely happen,” says Pua with a gentle shrug.  “The courts are not set up for us, especially when money is involved.” They lost not only on the spiritual claim, but on the basis of environmental protections; Mauna Kea is designated conservation land. Despite this, over many years 13 telescopes were quietly built on the summit, and even officials concede there were clear violations of conservation and native sovereignty laws.

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Hundreds leave prayers and offerings at a pohaku near the entrance leading up to Mauna Kea. [Photo: Shannon Biggs]
During the court case, people began to rise. First it was one person who went up to the summit to stand. Then one became hundreds.  And hundreds became thousands. In response to the June 24th blockade, Hawaiian Governor David Ige, a proponent of the TMT, issued a mandate to close the public road, the visitors station and place locks on the only public bathrooms on the summit.  In his public statement, Ige said:  “The State of Hawai‘i’s primary concern is the health and safety of its people. The state and Hawai‘i County are working together to uphold the law and ensure safety on roadways and on Mauna Kea, while allowing the people their right to peacefully and lawfully protest.”

Funds were sent in from around the world to pay for portable toilets for the protectors. Those toilets were removed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources in further retaliation for the June 24th blockade. Respecting the mountain means protectors are guided to find other methods to take care of their bodily needs.

A nighttime curfew was also put into place in another attempt to keep all people off the mountain. Throughout it all, protectors are reminded to act in the spirit of Kapu Aloha, leaving anger or negativity off of the summit.  “That’s been a challenge,” says Case, who along with other leaders, have been traveling to speak out about the Mauna, in between leading traditional chants for protectors and the spirits, “But also a beautiful part of our training, particularly for those seeking to help who are unfamiliar with the expectations of Kapu Aloha.”

Mauna_Kea_Summit_in_WinterThen on July 18, Mauna Kea had a say. In the middle of hottest summer in memory, there was a snowstorm on the mountain.  “This is my confirmation that we are on the right path,” Joshua Lanakila, one of the protectors, told the media. “We are our land, and our land is us. When we move, the land reflects our movement, and vice versa.” Ku’uipo Freitas wrote on Facebook, “It’s summer in Hawaii and Poliʻahu, the snow goddess, came to grace us in mid-July, the hottest month of the year. This is the power of pule (prayer) and believing in your culture and where you come from.”

The snowy reprieve from construction was brief, and to add insult to injury, the next police action came on July 31—the Eve of Hawaiian Sovereignty Day.  The raid took placearrests in the middle of the night on Mauna Kea, and in Maui, where another telescope is being erected.  Protectors in both places peacefully chanted and laid their bodies before the trucks, carried off one by one by groups of police. A total of 27 were arrested.Construction TMT

For those standing for the mountain, no matter the outcome, the fight isn’t about science versus nature. “They’ll play that card until the last day,” says Case. “If you don’t believe in the Sacred, or culture, that’s fine. If you don’t care that laws have been broken and criteria to build a conservation zone have not been built, thats up to you. But this is our watershed, our aquifer for the next seven generations. For us there can be no compromise for what we believe in, what we know to be true. There is no negotiation.  We will stand as our kapuna  have instructed us at the time of annexation, to stand until the last Aloha ʻĀina patriot lives.”

To support the protectors, visit their Facebook site and leave your own message of solidarity, which helps fuel the community’s spirits, or you can order a Protect Maua Kea shawl.


 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!