Tag Archives: indigenous

Rivers, Rights and Revolution: Learning from the Māori

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

 

Maori reports pic
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:

IMG_0499
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.

{"macroEnabled":false,"qualityMode":3,"deviceTilt":0.03481237491103606,"customExposureMode":0,"extendedExposure":false,"whiteBalanceProgram":0,"focusMode":0}
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.

36376-hm
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 

Mist_over_Te_Urewera
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.

unspecified-1
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.

cwxxyb4uuaay1id
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.

IMG_0426
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.

unspecified-3
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.

8026468001_52ccae79e3
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.

20161108_132945
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. 

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.”

 

iu-1

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.

12728707_1018388624901259_1564799618_n
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!

 

Historic Indigenous Women’s Treaty Calls For Action for the Earth


By P11755717_10205036197332731_6931083176796839713_nennie Opal Plant 

Pennie is the co-founder of Movement Rights and Idle No More Bay Area.


 

12039532_10153588974518419_2718090441941506194_n
First signers of the Treaty (L-R) Gloria Hilda Ushiga Santi, Casey Camp-Horenik, Pennie Opal Plant, Patricia Gualinga, Blanca Chancoso & Crystal Lameman (not pictured)

There are powerful forces at work in our world. When we are open to them they can guide us into unexpected areas that can be surprising.

The journey toward the creation and signing of the historic “Indigenous Women of the Americas – Defending Mother Earth Treaty Compact 2015” has been surprising, powerful and deeply rewarding.  Those of us involved in putting the Treaty together quickly understood that it has a life of its own and that our job is to pay attention and move as we are directed to by unseen forces that are working for the greater good.  The image that I have in my mind of this process is Mother Earth herself holding the Treaty and moving very quickly.  She has on a beautifully fringed shawl.  Those of us who have been involved in the Treaty from the very beginning are holding onto the fringe as tightly as possible as she moves toward protecting and defending her sacred system of life.

To read the Treaty and hear its call to action, click here. 

The first signing of the Treaty by Indigenous women who are protectors and defenders took place on Sunday, September 27th on occupied Lenape Territory in what is now known as New York City.  It was the day of the fourth Blood Moon, the Harvest Full Moon, and the total lunar eclipse.  It was a day of power which had its own design on exactly when and where the signings would occur.

marchfinished_0066-300x200
Gloria Hilda Ushiga Santi from the Amazon of Ecuador, and Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca elder from Oklahoma

Casey Camp-Horinek, of the Ponca Nation, who worked tirelessly in the creation of the Treaty, and is an original signer, says this regarding the Indigenous Women of the North and South – Defend Mother Earth Treaty Compact 2015:

“We acknowledge this moment on Mother Earth for the 4th Red Moon of this year is eclipsing and offering us this chance to renew and defend the rights of Mother Earth as Indigenous Women. We gathered on this sacred day in ceremony to honor the ancestors who brought us to this point where we could stand strong in unified love of our Mother the Earth, our Father the Sky and the undying duty to protect the air, water, earth and all of our relatives for the future generations.

We give thanks for the guidance and the support that made this day the sacred day that it has become at this historic Treaty between the Indigenous Women of the North and South. We invite and implore the prayers and the spreading of the word to rise up and join this movement that has begun in the times before us and moves into this wave of awareness across the face of our Mother.”

This Treaty is historic on many levels.800s_163Gloria1

  • It is the first international treaty between Indigenous women of the Americas.
  • It is a call to action which outlines the crimes being committed against Mother Earth, as well as the threats to those alive now and future generations to continue to exist in a way that is sustainable, healthy and survivable.
  • It makes the connection between the crimes against Mother Earth and the crimes against women and how women are inseparable from Mother Earth.
  • It also speaks to the sacred waters and that, as women, we are closely related to the waters and must protect them for many reasons, including for our babies to swim in uncontaminated waters in our wombs.

The original six signers include:

  • Gloria Hilda Ushiga Santi, from the Sapara Nation, Ecuador
  • Patricia Gualinga, from the Kichwa Nation, Ecuador and
  • Blanca Chancoso, from the Kichwa Nation, Ecuador
  • Casey Camp-Horinek, from the Ponca Nation, OK
  • Crystal Lameman, from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Canada
  • Melina Laboucan‐Massimo, from the Lubicon Cree Nation, Canada, and
  • Pennie Opal Plant, Yaqui, Mexican, Choctaw, Cherokee and European descent, CA

 It is the first treaty that calls upon those who sign as Indigenous women and others who sign on to support it to conduct monthly ceremonies on the new moon to ask for guidance and wisdom in protecting and defending Mother Earth.  

And, it requires those signing it and signing on as supporters to nonviolently stop the harms to the sacred system of life wherever they are on Mother Earth’s belly each solstice and equinox, and to do so with the love in our hearts for all we hold dear.  That’s nonviolent direct action every three months around the world to put an immediate stop to the devastating harms.

There are many Indigenous women who are protectors and defenders that are being invited to sign the Treaty.  Some of them will sign it while we are at COP 21 in Paris in December. Others will sign it at special events before and after Paris.

While we are in Paris we will be networking with Indigenous women from around the world to begin discussing similar treaties between the women protectors and defenders of the Americas and the Indigenous women in Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Island Nations and the Middle East.  I enjoy imagining that within a year, millions of women and our allies will be shutting down the harms all over the world every three months with love in our hearts.  I see this as the quickest way to inspire the policy shifts that are required to ensure a safe future for all of our relatives within the sacred system of life on Mother Earth’s belly.

10-women-holding-handsJoin us. No one will be left out.

In addition to Indigenous women signers there will also be an online mechanism for everyone who supports and commits to the Treaty to sign.  No one will be left out.  As it reads at the end of the Treaty: We Stand Together.  Join the call from Indigenous women to the world to take action big or small for the Earth during the next New Moon.

 


 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-nc

Movement 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!

 

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

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

 

800px-Mauna_Kea_night_time_view
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.

2015-04-02-tmt-arrests02
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.”

tumblr_nmizdgUVSW1stbl4xo2_1280
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

Pua story at Waimea Rock image
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.

2015-05-23 13.11.50
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!