By Julia Horinek, Movement Rights’ Plains Organizer
At one time we all shared a connection to Mother Earth, that part of Nature that exists outside ourselves. We lived as part of the sacred system of life in a way that did not take more than we needed. We acknowledged that we need Her more than she needs us. We lived in a careful, thoughtful way with reciprocity and the knowledge that Mother Earth would provide for us all the sources of life—clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, healthy foods to nourish our bodies and our spirit. And then with colonization there came the disconnect—the notion that humans were separate from or even owners of the natural world. Colonizer laws were put in place to enforce the idea that nature was property, and so too were Indigenous and stolen peoples.
For most Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island that meant forced removals from our ancestral homes, survival mode in unfamiliar territory, with little to no knowledge of how to thrive in the new harsh environment, reservations, boarding schools, the outlawing of our religion and languages. Stolen children and lost cultural practices. We lost our way, our place-specific Original Instructions—challenging our own connection to Mother Earth.
I am the third generation of Ponca born in Oklahoma. When I return to the homelands of the Niobrara River in what is present day Nebraska my blood sings to me that I am home. My bones feel it. I want to touch the Earth, feel her songs in my veins. I never want to leave.
But I’m not. I’m in Oklahoma. The Ponca, along with many other Tribes were “relocated” to Indian Terriotory and disconnected from our homelands. Only the Apache, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, Osage and Wichita called this place home before the Indian Removal Act, though several tribes hunted here periodically. These “given” lands were lands that no Europeans wanted. Red water, red earth, strong winds, harsh weather.
And beauty. Oklahoma is beautiful. Deserts, plains, woods, streams, rivers, rolling hills, tall grass prairie, cultivated mile sections, and sunsets that take your breath away. We’ve made these lands our home and just like any other home, we know we need to care for it.
The Rights of Nature is caring for your home—not just laws, statutes, ordinances, or words on paper (although they are powerful tools, don’t get me wrong). Rights of Nature is a feeling of oneness with the sources of life. It is “blood memory”. That “I feel it in my bones” kind of acknowledgement of our dependency on Her for life itself. It is kinship, and it is the deep understanding of the responsibility that we must give the next seven generations—a better world than the one we live in now.
We are at an “ACT NOW” point in time. The prophecies we’ve been raised with are coming into being. The desecration, contamination, mutilation, deforestation, overpopulation, and climate destruction are almost beyond repair.
There is still time, time to align the human laws with the laws of the natural world. There are still reasons to galvanize our movements. The Rights of Nature—particularly Indigenous-led— are a vital part of this reconnection.
I am but a small part of the Rights of Nature movement. This story of reconnecting the disconnect within myself will branch out like a tree with many pathways, many leaves…..all leading back towards the same roots. My focus will be here in Oklahoma and throughout the Plains, working with tribal communities and water protectors to transcend the institutionalized racism that what was named Oklahoma was founded on. We’ve got a long way to go, a short time to get there, and everything to gain—including our blood memory.
Julia Horinek is a member of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, and the Plains Organizer for Movement Rights. Born and raised in Oklahoma to a family with a long history of activism, Julia has been involved in grassroots Rights of Nature and Human Rights organizing and action as long as she can remember. From marching with Cesar Chavez in the early 1970’s as a small child, to organizing logistics for Indigenous Rights of Nature and Front Line Oil and Gas summits in Oklahoma. She is a 2023 Equation Campaign Fellow.
Working with Tribes and Communities to Align Human Laws with Natural Laws and advance climate justice. We are in the streets, in the news and in the courts, providing research and reports, convening strategic gatherings, speaking at the UN, community meetings, regulatory hearings, and more. We work with national and global climate allies, sovereign Indigenous Nations and communities. We have helped thousands of people connect the dots between the critical time we find ourselves in and the solutions that Indigenous people have always known: human activity must take place within the natural system of laws that govern life on Earth. We sit on the steering committee for People Vs Fossil Fuels coalition, and are a co-founder and Executive Committee member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. Movement Rights works for climate justice, the rights of Indigenous peoples and the Rights of Nature. Consider making a donation today to support our work.