Tag Archives: Pennie Opal Plant

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

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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!

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!

 

California, Drought and the Return of ‘Limits to Growth’?

Photo above: A housing development in Cathedral City, near Palm Springs. Credit: Damon Winter/The New York Times


 

By Suzanne York

limits-to-growth
1972 cover of the groundbreaking book providing the first computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.

It’s shocking, but a mainstream media outlet has actually mentioned the idea of limits to growth and limits of nature.  The New York Times, no less, has run a front-page story on the drought in California, invoking the concept of limits, in an article titled “California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth.”

The drought, now in its fourth year, has prompted the state government to announce measures to reduce water consumption.  That in itself isn’t shocking, given the increasing severity of California’s water situation, but what is surprising is that it took this long to enact serious measures.

A Desert Full of Pools

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the front-page photo by Damon Winters for the New York Times says it all, especially about human hubris.  Swimming pools, big houses run on a/c, greenery on one side, a parched desert on the other. (See more photos and graphs here).  It is a picture that is representative of our society today – humanity giving the finger to nature, as well as to future generations.  We will take what we want today, damn the consequences tomorrow.

 Imagine someone 50 years from now looking at this photo. Surely future generations will ask, “what were they thinking?”

Nearly 40 million people live in California.  Over 20 million people live in southern California in a predominantly arid landscape.  Yet for the last century or more, humanity has conquered it, bending nature to our will.  If you build it, goes the ruling mentality, people will come, and come they did.  And if you need more water to sustain the people, as well as their lawns and swimming pools, take it, from the Owens Valley to the Colorado River to possibly soon the Sacramento Delta.

Questioning the Status Quo

For decades, barely anyone has questioned this model of development.  Perhaps now that the New York Times is raising questions, it should give us hope that humanity is waking up and growing up.

Kevin Starr, a historian with the University of Southern California told The New York Times, “Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here.”  Moreover, Dr. Starr noted that the state “is not going to go under, but we are going to have to go in a different way.”  That is obvious, and it applies not only to California, but also to the world.  Business as usual cannot go on unabated without serious environmental and social consequences.

Even California governor Jerry Brown seems to get it.  Again, from the New York Times:

“You just can’t live the way you always have,” said Mr. Brown, a Democrat who is in his fourth term as governor. “For over 10,000 years, people lived in California, but the number of those people were never more than 300,000 or 400,000,” Mr. Brown said. “Now we are embarked upon an experiment that no one has ever tried: 38 million people, with 32 million vehicles, living at the level of comfort that we all strive to attain. This will require adjustment. This will require learning.” (emphasis added)

Overcoming a Short-Sighted Mentality

 Yes, Governor Brown seems to understand the reality of the drought crisis, yet while he talks the talk, at the same time he is also supporting fracking, a very water intensive extractive industry.

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Movement Rights’ Pennie Opal Plant speaking at the state’s largest fracking rally in Sacramento 2014.

And one of his major projects for the state is building tunnels to bring water from the Sacramento Delta region to southern California.  He needs to take a closer look at his words on not living the way we always have, because that should mean taking care of our communities today, and thinking of the generations to follow.

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Photo credit: http://info.firstcarbonsolutions.com/blog/bid/333194/greenpeaceblogs.org

The water restrictions, for now, are targeted at urban users.  However, the agriculture industry uses nearly 80% of California’s water, much of it from groundwater aquifers that are rapidly being depleted, and much of it for crops that are being exported abroad.  Restrictions are coming, but how much for one of the state’s biggest industries remains to be seen.  But the realization that growing water-intensive crops and particularly those slated for export—is sinking in (not to mention cattle raised for beef, which is the most water-intensive meat).

Where is Nature?

thMissing from most discussions on the drought is Nature. Citizens and businesses might be inconvenienced by having to reduce water usage, but what about the flora and fauna that need it to survive?

According to a 2012 California Department of Fish and Wildlife report “California’s wildlife depends on water, just as its citizens do. With water resources becoming increasingly rare, a domino effect takes place in the ecosystem.” Humans are part of the web of life, not separate, and we have a responsibility to take care of our ecosystem. Supporting alternative concepts such as rights of nature and rights of waterways should be on the table.

Leading the Way

Hopefully the mentioning of limits to growth in the New York Times will lead to more discussion and acceptance of it.  We live on a planet with finite resources. Now, with increasing and unknown impacts of climate change and continued population growth (8-10 billion people by 2050), it’s time to accept some hard truths.

California has been a leader in many ways.  Maybe this time it will be a leader in understanding that there are limits to growth and that we need to live within our means.  Not only for our sake, but for that of future generations.


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population StudiesHer work is focused on the interconnectedness of population growth with women’s empowerment, human rights, consumption, alternative economies, and the environment. Suzanne She is the author of several reports, including Peoples’ RightsPlanet’s Rights: Holistic Approaches to a Sustainable Population and Prioritizing the PHE Approach: Linking Population, Health, and Environment for a Better World. As research director with the International Forum on Globalization, she was a contributing author to Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Economic Globalization.  She is a founding member of the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance, a wilderness lover, a dog blogger, and a good friend of Movement Rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Refinery Healing Walks: Why I am walking for Mother Earth

by Pennie Opal Plant, co-founder Movement Rights and Idle No More Bay Area.

The Connect the Dots: Refinery Healing Walks 2015 will occur over a four month period in the San Francisco Bay Area: Saturday, April 18th – Pittsburg to Martinez Sunday, May 17th – Martinez to Benicia Saturday, June 20th – Benicia to Rodeo Sunday, July 19th – Rodeo to Richmond

 

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Pennie Opal Plant speaking to Canadian officials about healing the Earth and our responsibility to be caretakers

The Healing Walks in the tar sands of Alberta Canada and between the refineries in the San Francisco Bay area (and in many places on Mother Earth’s belly worldwide) are born out of a need to heal our human relationship with each other and all living beings, the water, air and land, and witness the suffering caused by our destructive addiction to fossil fuels.  It is not a rally, a march or a protest, but an acknowledgement of life that helps us connect to our activism and daily life in new ways.

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Two years after the refinery explosion that rocked the Richmond, CA community, residents still live in fear, while air quality and land remain contaminated.

Most people living in the San Francisco Bay Area are familiar with the Chevron refinery in Richmond due to the many accidents that have affected the health of community members. In particular, the fire on August 6, 2012 which sent 15,000 people to hospitals. What many people are beginning to realize is that there are five refineries in the Bay Area, plus a proposal for the WesPac oil terminal in Pittsburg. The refineries include: Tesoro and Shell in Martinez, Valero in Benicia, Conoco Phillips 66 in Rodeo, and Chevron in Richmond. Many people living in these communities suffer similar health effects which include very high rates of asthma, especially among children, as well as cancers, auto-immune and respiratory diseases.

In addition to the health risks from living near these refineries, people living near the railroad tracks are becoming more aware of the crude by rail coming through the Bay Area. These are the same types of oil trains that have been derailing and exploding on a regular basis throughout North America. Trains carrying potentially explosive crude are next to homes, shopping areas, schools, and community centers. The radius of one of these trains exploding is 1 mile. On December 3, 2014, a train derailed next to Peres Elementary School in Richmond. Fortunately, it was not carrying crude oil, but it could have been.

In January of 2014, Idle No More SF Bay decided to organize a series of healing walks along the refinery corridor of the Northeast San Francisco Bay. The walks were inspired by the many healing walks and runs in Native America, including the Tar Sands Healing Walks in Alberta, Canada, the Longest Walks, and the Peace & Dignity Journeys.

Front-line activists living along the corridor joined them and created the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition (BARCC). Working together, these two groups organized the healing walks to bring attention to the health risks and dangers that the refineries pose and the explosive crude by rail coming through the communities from the Alberta tar sands and the Bakken oil fields.

BsYgaOnCEAAtVxDThe Walks begin and end with prayers for the water conducted by Native American women, and are led by Native American elders and others in prayer following a sacred staff. Others walk in contemplation and conversation. Walkers stop at the refineries and toxic sites along the way to pray for the land, water and air, as well as creatures living near the refineries and those yet to be born. Support vehicles follow the walkers with water and medics. Participants are asked to sign an agreement to be nonviolent.

9012598_origOrganizers decided to begin a process as part of the walks to
encourage walkers to envision a just transition to a clean and safe energy future and an economy that supports everyone. Walkers are invited to write or draw these ideas on muslin squares at the end of each walk. These squares will be sewn into quilts. The quilts from 2014 will be shown at all of the walks.

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Casey Camp Hornick leading a prayer for healing at the 2014 Refinery Healing Walk

Casey Camp Hornick, a Ponca from Oklahoma and honored Native rights and environmental rights activist, actress and traditional drum keeper will return to the Bay Area from her home in Oklahoma, to lead prayer at the first Healing Walk. “My reason for living is because the generations that came before me loved and cared for the Earth and knew that they would have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.” says Casey.   “And, that despite the obstacles they faced, including forced removal from their lands and genocide, that they would care for the Earth and make room for those generations to come.   Now I’m a soon to be great-grandmother,  my understanding is clear that its necessary to be a warrior for those without voices and generations to come.”

When & Where to join the Healing:

  • Saturday, April 18th: Pittsburg to Martinez – 51 Marina Blvd., Pittsburg. Water Ceremony and registration 8:00 a.m. Walk begins at 9:30 a.m., ending at Martinez Waterfront Park at the end of Ferry Street.
  • Sunday, May 17th: Martinez to Benicia – Waterfront Park at the end of Ferry Street. Water Ceremony and registration 8:00 a.m. Walk begins at 9:30 a.m., ending at 9th Street Park in Benicia.
  • Saturday, June 20: Benicia to Rodeo – 9th Street Park, Benicia. Water Ceremony and registration 8:00 a.m. Walk begins at 9:30 a.m., ending at Lone Tree Point in Rodeo.
  • Sunday, July 19: Rodeo to Richmond – Lone Tree Point, Rodeo. Water Ceremony and registration 8:00 a.m. Walk begins at 9:30 a.m., ending at Keller Beach in Point Richmond.

The indigenous women led Idle No More movement began in late October, 2012. Three First Nations women, and one woman who refers to herself as of “settler” descent, decided to call out for people in Canada to rise up for indigenous rights and against proposed legislation that would devastate the environment. In particular, Bill C-45 proposed reducing the protections of natural systems of water (rivers, lakes, streams) from over 2 million to under 200. This bill was ultimately passed by the Canadian Parliament on December 5, 2012.

2013-01-02-idlenomorehuffpoThe call to be “Idle No More” resonated nationally with thousands of people coming together to conduct prayers, teach-ins and round dances (dances of peace and friendship) in shopping malls, streets, and public spaces all across Canada. The call to be idle no more also resonated around the world with solidarity actions in North, Central and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Locally, Native Americans and their allies began conducting Idle No More type actions in December, 2012. In early 2013, Idle No More SF Bay was formally created by a group of Native American grandmothers, mothers, fathers and grandfathers. Idle No More SF Bay includes many allies of different backgrounds. This group has become one of the most active Idle No More groups in the United States.

 

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