New Report Shows Rights of Nature Emerges as Alternative to UN Climate Framework

 Movement Rights coproduced a report, Rights of Nature: Rights-Based Law for Systemic Change with our allies Womens Earth and Climate Action Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network as part of our activities in Bonn, Germany for the UN Climate negotiations.  The report is available for free download and has contributions from a dozen rights of nature global leaders. 

Movement Rights’ Shannon Biggs and WECAN’s Osprey Orielle Lake introducing the report in Bonn at a WECAN event.

BONN, Germany – Concluding the first week of COP 23 climate negotiations, it is clear that many civil society groups, scientists and economists believe the general UNFCCC climate framework will only serve to exacerbate chaotic climate conditions. At the opening of the conference, COP 23 President and Prime Minister of Fiji Frank Bainimarama remarked, “The need for urgency is obvious. Our world is in distress from the extreme weather events caused by climate change – destructive hurricanes, fires, floods, droughts, melting ice, and changes to agriculture that threaten our food security.” These civil society groups argue that while the rhetoric of the negotiators is good, the actions will not serve the needs of climate-impacted communities.

In a new report released for Bonn, Rights of Nature: Rights-Based Law for Systemic Change, the authors point to a fast-growing body of international law that seeks to change how decisions about the climate and ecosystem protection. “Climate disruption is the direct result of human activities pushing beyond the limits of Natural Law,” the editors note, “Recognizing the Earth as a living system of which humans are a part, rather than as human property to be owned and destroyed is a fundamental shift from the climate capitalism embedded in the DNA of trade deals, environmental policies and treaties around the world—including the Paris Agreement.”

Current country commitments of the United Nations Paris Agreement add up to a 3+ degree rise in global temperature by 2050, an outcome that will dwarf the ravages of recent global record-breaking hurricanes, fires and droughts. “Climate science tell us we need to keep global temperatures to a 1.5 degree rise, something that cannot be accomplished unless we leave 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground,” editors note, “The Paris Agreement lacks a plan to accomplish that, and as a non-binding agreement, provides the opportunity for countries like the U.S. to simply walk away.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s heated response to those in the crowd at Bonn event demanding real solutions to climate change. He is pointing at Ninawa Nuneshuni Kui, President of the Huni Kui People of Acre, Brazil. Photo:  Indigenous Media Rising

On 11 November, California Governor Jerry Brown took the stage at the America’s Pledge event, themed Were Still In. When cities and states combine together and then join with powerful corporations, that’s how we get stuff done,” said Governor Brown before his speech was disrupted by protestors who came to confront his support of fossil fuels and big business.

“Humanity needs Nature to survive,” said Ninawa Nuneshuni Kui, President of the Huni Kui People of Acre, Brazil following his participation of the protest.

Ninawa Nuneshuni Kui, President of the Huni Kui People of Acre, Brazil speaking to Governor Brown to stop fracking and REDD projects affecting his community. Photo credit Movement Rights

“So I want to say that Nature and the air are not a means of commerce. Jerry Brown’s ‘American Pledge’ will lead to the displacement of my people and the destruction of my territory. We need to respect the Rights of Nature and humans beings that need her to survive.” 

The report explores not just the idea of a shift toward recognizing rights of ecosystems but includes global examples from around the world where these new laws are taking root. In the last year alone, New Zealand and India have recognized rivers as rights-bearing entities that now “own” themselves.

They join the fast-growing list of 7 countries and dozens of local U.S. communities that are finding the only way forward to protect human communities is to shift our legal frameworks to align with natural law.


Ponca Nation of Oklahoma to Recognize the Rights of Nature to Ban Fracking



Ponca Nation of Oklahoma to Recognize the Rights of Nature to Stop Fracking

 San Francisco, CA After suffering for years with poisoned water and serious health issues due to fracking and injection wells on and near their reservation the governing body of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma voted to pass a statute recognizing the rights of nature on Friday, October 20, 2017.  When enacted, the Ponca will be the first tribal nation to recognize the rights of nature into statutory law.

“On Friday, October20th 2017, the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma took the historic step of agreeing to add a statute to enact the Rights of Nature.  We are proud to be moving into the future by honoring our original instructions to respect all life on our Mother Earth,” said Casey Camp-Horinek, a member of the Ponca Tribal Business Council.  “We would like to thank everyone who has brought information about the Rights of Nature and those who continue to share ways to bring back respect for the natural laws that have sustained all life for millenniums.  A special thanks to Movement Rights founders, Shannon Biggs and Pennie Opal Plant for all the support provided over the last few years.”

Movement Rights and the Ponca Tribal Business Council meeting in 2016 about the rights of nature.

Movement Rights, has been working with members of the Ponca Nation to assist the tribe with fracking issues utilizing the recognition of the rights of nature as a model to protect the land and health of tribal members. “Dozens of communities in the United States and several countries, including New Zealand, India, Ecuador and Bolivia, have passed laws that stop treating nature as property to be destroyed.  The rights of nature legal framework recognizes legal rights of ecosystems to exist and regenerate their vital life cycles,” said Shannon Biggs, the Executive Director of Movement Rights.  “These communities and countries are using this new legal framework to protect people and natural communities from harmful activities including fracking. They are shifting human law to align with natural law.”

Ponca, Oklahoma is the epicenter of earthquakes caused by fracking and injection wells.  Tribal members have experienced diseases that have decimated their population since the fracking industry began in their area.  Every single water well on the reservation is too toxic to drink, bathe in or allow pets and livestock to drink.  There have been 448 earthquakes in and around the Ponca reservation this year, in a state that was essentially earthquake free before the fracking industry moved in to the area.  The Ponca Nation is expected to enact the Rights of Nature Statute into law by the end of 2017.

“We all know that water is life. The years of fish kills related to the fracking and injection wells amount to environmental genocide,” said Casey Camp-Horinek. “It is going to take all of us humans because we’re speaking for those without voices, for the deer, the cattle, those that fly.  In our tribe we have a funeral a week now. We’re being fracked to death and It’s time to take a stand for our people and defend the earth.
The Ponca Nation and Movement Rights also conducted two events which took place on Saturday, October 22nd called “Ponca Environmental Community Action Day”.  The day included a prayer walk to the Phillips 66 refinery in the City of Ponca as well as a community meeting.   “I feel like we are gaining strength, we had more tribal nations represented this time as well as non-natives,” said Ponca Tribal member, Suzaatah Williams. “We had elders and even a newborn on this walk and every age group in between. Even if only one of these people share the information they learned we have made a difference.  Knowledge is power and we are only getting stronger!”

Bryan Parras of TEJAS speaking at the Ponca Community event, with Casey Camp Horinek behind him.

Speakers for the community events included Casey Camp-Horinek, Mekasi Horinek, Shannon Biggs, Bryan Parras of the Sierra Club and TEJAS in Houston, Texas, and Robby Diesu, coordinator for the national Stop the Frack Attack Network based in Washington, DC.


“Most importantly, thanks to our Creator, Wakonda,” said Casey Camp-Horinek.  “We believe that the prayers and guidance provided are leading us to further protect our Mother Earth, who sustains us; and make a way for the generations to come.”

Water is Life.

Additional photos and video available upon request and through Movement Rights’ Facebook page. Movement Rights is a non profit working to advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Communities and Ecosystems.

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Seeking Climate Justice for the Ponca Nation


“We all know that water is life. The years of fish kills related to the fracking and injection wells amount to environmental genocide. It is going to take all of us humans because we’re talking for those without voices, for the deer, for the cattle, for those that fly. In our tribe we have a funeral a week now. We’re being fracked to death.” Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Tribal Council member 

Casey Camp Horinek leading an action at the Conoco Phillips refinery in Ponca City, 2016.

Fracking is the most environmentally destructive energy extraction technique ever developed.    Due to fracking and injection wells, Oklahoma is now the “Earthquake capital of the World.”   From massive fish kills to bubbling crude, poisoned air and flammable groundwater and rivers, the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma’s tribal lands lie in the epicenter of the destruction and represent the frontline of the climate justice battle in the state. The Ponca nation is also uniquely positioned to be the first in the state to deny fracking (which has been endorsed and protected from local regulation or bans), and leading the path toward widespread community action and new environmental protections.

Last year, Movement Rights was invited to come to visit the Ponca lands,  around which  Ponca City, OK grew, and took its name.  We were asked to assist them in exploring whether recognizing the rights of nature in tribal law could be not only a way to ban fracking, but begin the process of transforming their economy away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

Visiting the Ponca lands is hard—the Ponca people and the Earth have been dizzyingly polluted by an industry that pervades every aspect of life. In any direction you can see the ravages of oil pipelines, wells, refineries, petro-chemical plants and more.  The ground is wet and black where leaks bubble up to the surface on farming lands, and blackened wheat stands wave in the breeze.  The smell is headache-inducing and curls in your nose. Swimming pools are drained—cracked from ongoing earthquakes, as are most homes. Read here for information, videos and photos from our 2016 actions.

Since that time the Ponca Nation passed a resolution recognizing rights of nature.  Casey Camp Horinek has traveled sometimes with Movement Rights, to strategic Indigenous, fracking, and rights of nature events statewide, nationwide and worldwide.


Water is life. We must stop fracking in our communities & respect the Rights of Nature.

Friday, October 20 (not open to the public) our delegation will give a presentation to the Ponca Business Council, including William Greendeer, Ho-Chunk tribal member, who was instrumental in assisting his tribe to become the first in the nation to recognize rights of nature in tribal law. This event is not open to the public.  Following that, Casey will lead our delegates and media representatives on a “Toxic Tour” of Ponca City.

On Saturday, October 21, join us for an exciting day of action: 

9:00 am Sign-making at Tribal Affairs Building in White Eagle

10:30 am Gather at Dan Moran Park, T-shirt Giveaway

11:00 am Speakers & March to Conoco Phillips

12:30 pm Indian Tacos, Booths, Speakers & Public Testimonials, Door Prizes at Tribal Affairs Building in White Eagle

Casey will lead all events, and welcome national speakers including:

  • William Greendeer, Ho-Chunk tribal member who helped recognize Rights of Nature into tribal law
  • Bryan Parras, TEJAS and Sierra Club oil campaigner from Houston, TX
  • Robby Diesu, coordinator for the national Stop the Frack Attack Network (Washington DC)
  • Pennie Opal Plant, Co-founder, Movement Rights, Indigenous & Rights of Nature leader
  • Shannon Biggs, Co-founder Movement Rights, Community & Rights of Nature leader

Visit here for more information,  or to register for the Day of Action on Facebook.

To get your own Ponca “Water is Life” T-shirt make a donation of $50 or more to Movement Rights, and your size preference (S-XL) or contact



From Paris to Pittsburgh (and beyond): The Climate Fight Comes Home

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


Outside the UN COP 21 Paris climate negotiations in 2015, thousands gathered to express outrage at the final outcome—a 3 degree temperature rise which may be the tipping point for human intervention.

Mere moments after the January 20 inauguration, nearly all references to climate change vanished from the White House website.  The only exception was the new President’s vow to eliminate all traces of the Obama administration’s climate policies.  In the days that followed, the EPA came under attack,  corporate cronies and climate science debunkers took prominent positions in the White House cabinet. Like oil-drenched zombies, pipelines like Keystone XL and DAPL came back from the dead.

And just when it couldn’t look any worse for the health of the ecosystems that sustain us and the communities on the frontline of climate chaos, the White House pulled the plug on the Paris Climate Agreement.  Americans, the global environmental community and even fossil fuel CEOs exploded in a furious mix of anger, shame, fright and despair.

On its face, the UN COP 21 Paris Agreement seemed like an answer to the greatest challenge of human times.  Heralded by delegates, the media and mainstream environmental groups as the as “the world’s greatest diplomatic success”  a deeper inspection reveals what no one wanted to hear—it was closer to a plan to fiddle while the planet burned. Ironically, by removing the US from the Paris Agreement in a fit of bravado, President Trump may unwittingly be taking the strongest climate action of any administration in history.

Nnimmo Bassey making a statement at the failed 2009 UN Climate talks in Copenhagen before he was ejected.

“The action of Mr. Trump’s government is astonishing, though not surprising,” says Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian environmental leader and director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation says, adding “I don’t see the fundamental difference it will make with regard to the defective Paris Agreement because the US delegations at the COPs have routinely been obstructive of real actions based on justice and equity.” These  sentiments are being echoed by  many in the climate justice movement.

“The U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history and in per capita terms, is a leading contributor to global climate change,” says Indigenous Environmental Network Executive Director, Tom B.K. Gold tooth. “Backing out of this agreement continues a long history of broken promises and threatens the vital and sacred life cycles of Mother Earth.”

As Scott Parkin from Rising Tide says, “[The Paris Agreement] favored corporations over the rights of Indigenous people and the Global South, and created a sense of false hope for slowing global warming while not really providing the mechanics on how to do it.”

On message: 2017 saw the largest march of its kind take place across the US and around the world.

Without doubt the Paris Agreement created a popular notion that the entire world was ready to take collective action, and for many environmental groups and active citizens of the world, it inspired new efforts and engaged newcomers to the struggle. This is an important piece of the climate struggle particularly in the wake of US withdrawal.

Are we mis-remembering Paris?

As Movement Rights reported upon returning from COP 21, there was little inside the text of the non-binding Agreement worth celebrating. For example:

Containing global temperatures to 1.5 degrees was the aspirational target necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

It contains bad math: Scientists—or at least 99.99% of them, have warned that the world’s average temperature rise (from pre-industrial levels) cannot exceed 2 degrees Celsius—ideally, 1.5 degrees.   A 3 degree rise however, ensures catastrophic consequences and may be the tipping point that leaves humans powerless to intervene.  During the summit, it became clear that the 1.5 target had been eliminated.  The final Agreement was touted as a roadmap to contain global temperature rise to 2 degrees, but the country commitments actually add up to a code red 3 degrees warming.

Even to achieve 2 degrees, we must leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground—yet the Paris Agreement lacks a plan or the current or future political will to do it. No country promised to “keep it in the ground”, rather the agreement seeks to “check in” on progress every five years.

Polluting Corporations helped write it: In part, the lack of enforceable action accounts for the half-hearted support of the Paris Agreement by CEOs of ExxonMobil and  Conoco Phillips in the wake of the President’s withdrawal.  As Cindy Weisner of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance remarked before the Paris COP:“[the] announcement of the corporate sponsors of the COP21 exposes the deep contradiction in UN COP process and their cozy relationship with the very corporations who are driving the climate crisis.

And then there’s the little understood idea that runs the entire framework of the Paris Agreement: the Earth, including the climate are treated as commodities to be bought, sold and traded on the open market.  The Paris Agreement reinforces false solutions of carbon markets and the financialization of nature.  This is critical to the fossil fuel agenda.

As Movement Rights and Indigenous Environmental Network’s  Tom Goldtooth warned in our Paris report: “The climate Ponzi scheme of trading of air, water, trees, soil, and biodiversity along with false solutions of carbon capture, genetically modified organisms, geoengineering, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, agrofuels, fracking, nuclear projects and energy generation from incineration—all these will do more harm than good to Mother Earth.” Yet this was—and remains—the basis for the Paris Agreement. (For more on what is in the Paris Agreement click here.) It’s also worth noting that for whatever small wins and “better than nothing” attributes the Paris Agreement may have contained, it didn’t stop Arctic or deep sea drilling, DAPL, fracking, or other violations of the Earth.  Any gains on those fronts came hard won by real people putting their bodies on the line and taking action—often in the places where they lived.

Real Climate Action may be closer than you think

But at least as far as the United States is concerned, the flaws inherent in the Paris Agreement may matter so much anymore.  The ‘Art of the Deal’ POTUS has dealt us out of the running for any kind of national climate leadership at twitter storm speed. But maybe there is some unexpected magic in that.

As Tom Goldtooth says, “The U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history and in per capita terms, is a leading contributor to global climate change. Regardless of the many shortcomings of the Paris Agreement, it is critical that the U.S. be held accountable for its moral and ethical responsibilities to take ambitious action to meet the Agreement’s [2 degree] goal, but I must note the Agreement’s aspiration goal of 1.5°C.”  By surrendering the mantle of climate leadership at the federal level, the President has unwittingly tasked communities and states to do better.

As a country we can no longer rest our fate to the hands of trade and climate negotiators we will never meet, and a system beholden more to corporate interests than planetary ones. Instead we have to take ownership of our climate future where we live.  We never felt empowered to do that before—now we have no choice.

Things are already moving fast in this direction.  Almost overnight climate decisions once made at far-away UN conventions are shifting to city and state governments. A dozen states and more than 200 cities committed to meeting the Paris Agreement in the last week.  Governor Jerry Brown of California, the world’s 6th largest economy on its own has formally requested to negotiate within the UNFCCC COP process, and the Governor has already met with Chinese President Xi to pledge action.

Jerry Brown has become a target for actions like the may 2017 “Oil Money out of Politics” Rally in Sacramento

Of course, many state and even city leaders are beholden to the same corporate influences that plague the Paris Agreement.  While seeking a clean climate legacy, California’s Governor Brown has been widely criticized for his financial ties to Big Oil, his pro-fracking policies, and his commitment to carbon-trading schemes  like REDD. During the last 6 years, the Oil and gas lobby has spent $122 million in Sacramento, a good deal of which has ended up in Brown’s campaign coffers, now under investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission.  As Rootskeeper director David Braun has said, “Pay-to-play politics has allowed the dirtiest polluters in the world to legally poison our communities and exacerbate the climate crisis.”

The Indigenous RED LINE of climate justice at the end of the Paris negotiations.

While this should be concerning to anyone hoping states will take up the climate mantle that the White House dropped, the good news is that we can pass local laws ourselves (and if we want to pressure  state legislators and city officials we know where to find them)  AND we don’t have to settle for the Paris Accord. Some communities working with Movement Rights and partners are considering passing local Climate Rights ordinances to stop harmful projects before they begin and begin to set new standards locally. Indigenous peoples have put their bodies on the line at Standing Rock and on their territories everywhere to show us what  protecting the Earth will truly take.

We can and must feel emboldened as residents to take on climate change in terms that make sense and in places we can related to.  Targets don’t have to be “parts-per-billion” in the  atmosphere-at-large but closer to home at the source—at polluting factories, GMO crops, oil trains, fracking and other places where carbon and methane are emitted. This is where real climate decisions should have been made in the first place—at the source of greenhouse gas emissions. We have a right to a clean climate and a direct responsibility to protect humanity, future generations and the rights of the climate. Now more than ever, it really is up to us.


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

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


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:

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.

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.

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 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

What comes next

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

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

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

Conclusion: How do we win?  

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

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

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

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

One way to Bring Standing Rock Home

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


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

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

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

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

Going LOCAL: It’s Time for Local Self Governance

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

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

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

Working Nationally for Mother Earth and Indigenous Rights

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

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

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

Global Action for the Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps 2017: Will you join us?

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

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


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

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


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

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.










October 8, 2016


Shannon Biggs, Movement Rights (415) 841.2998

Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Tribal Council (580) 716.7015


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

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

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

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

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

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

Two public events take place Saturday Oct 15:

Click here for more information or to make a donation. 


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

By Pennie Opal Plant, Movement Rights co-founder

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

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.

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

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

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

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

The Role for Rights of Mother Earth  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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!