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Interview: The Work of Breaking Free

A conversation with YES! Media Executive Director Christine Hanna and Casey Camp-Horinek, Environmental Ambassador, Matriarch and Hereditary Drumkeeper of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma.

Nearly 20 years ago, I was on the board of Zero Waste Washington, a statewide organization that had worked tirelessly for decades, starting with recycling in the 1980s. By 2000, we were focused on “producer responsibility,” working to shift the cost of waste management upstream to manufacturers. It was a slog. Since then, the movement has become more diverse, sophisticated, international, and connected. Break Free From Plastic—a global movement of more than 2,000 organizations and 10,000 individuals working on systemic solutions to the plastic crisis—is emblematic of that evolution, and is why YES! invited it to sponsor this issue of YES! Magazine. I recently had the honor of learning from Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, a member of Break Free From Plastic, and am grateful to be able share some of our conversation with you.—Christine Hanna

Christine Hanna: First, would you be willing to introduce yourself?

Casey Camp Horinek: Ordinarily, I would do that in my language but it doesn’t translate well. My colonized name is Casey Camp-Horinek. I serve as the environmental ambassador for the Ponca Nation and as the traditional drum keeper for the women’s society. I’m most comfortable introducing myself as a matriarch, a survivor, a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, sister, daughter, and future ancestor.

Hanna: What were you were personally experiencing, or what was your community experiencing, that made you want to commit to fighting the plastics problem.

Camp-Horinek: As a traditional, it’s very difficult for me to not begin with a history and move forward. Our people, the Ponca Nation, now living in Oklahoma, were forcibly removed. There were three Indigenous peoples to this territory originally. The Wichita, the Caddo, and the Comanche, who were also south. The rest of us, out of 39 tribes, are here as a result of forced movements from our homelands, each one of us with a story of our trail of tears. My grandfather was on the Ponca Trail of Tears. So I want you to understand, in those terms, how close we are to our original teachings and way of life. My grandfather was only about five or six years old when he was forced to walk over 677 miles along with all of our relatives to this area.

Hanna: And your original homeland was?

Camp-Horinek: Nibthaska, now called Nebraska. “Ni” is water. “Bthaska” is flat. So it’s where the water was at the very surface of the earth. It happens to be where the largest aquifer in North America is. We lived there in South Dakota and up into all of the territories. … Over 200 million acres were ceded in a series of five treaties in order for us to retain a small township in the confluence of Nishu Bay and the Nebrara, now called the Missouri River and the Niobrara River.

Fast forward to our forced removal where we had to leave behind virtually everything except what was on us at that time. Where one in three (people) died—one in three people. We’re having a pandemic now, can you imagine if one in three of the peoples here died? Well, our forced removal did that to us. We had already been decimated one hundred years earlier when smallpox blankets were given to us. We are a tribe that has struggled, and given, and remained.

As we moved into the following century—that was in 1877—a series of events (were enacted) by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management. You know, the BIA was created under the War Department so it has acted in that way since then as part of a genocidal process that was started by the federal government a long time ago. I’m not going to go through all the things that happened: the graft, the theft, the killings. But where we are now is living in an enforced environmental genocide because what was allowed into our territory, close to our tribal headquarters which is five miles south of what is now called Ponca City in North Central Oklahoma, was the largest tank battery and refinery complex until the 1990s. It was ConocoPhillips.

Our area now has tank batteries, pipelines, storage areas underground from World War II munitions, factories that are creating the stuff for biological warfare. (They don’t hire Poncas, by the way. Financial gain is supposed to come out of this for economic development, according to the BIA. But that never happened.)

Anyway, with those (chemicals), you have six seconds to get a mask on. That’s how deadly the gases are there. We also have Continental Carbon, which was a subsidiary of Conoco that produces carbon, where the particulates are so fine that if there was no wind, it would stay airborne for three days if you tossed it in the air. It’s literally absorbed through the pores of your body and destroys your cardiovascular system and your joints.

We have, left on the shores of the Arkansas River, a disintegrating OG&E (electric utility) plant that’s leaking cadmium and mercury directly into the earth. The refinery has polluted the air as well as the earth and the waters. Our territory that we were forced into is between the two rivers, the Arkansas River, the Ni ska in our Ponca language, and the Salt Fork River, or Ni zhida. Our people have had well water and springs. And now all the wells are shut down because they’re so polluted. And the springs no longer exist in a healthy manner. We can’t drink from them or utilize them as we initially could.

There is also a giant landfill that is leaking methane gas. That landfill is across from our historic cemetery where it blocks our view. The machines are going constantly when we’re having our ceremonies. Trash and plastic bags are blowing. And they have their leaching ponds across the street. That’s on the banks of the Salt Fork River. One drop of that water could kill a human being, that’s how toxic it is. And we have torrential rains and tornadoes here, you know. We have Ponca Iron and Metal, which was so toxic to the town of Ponca City that they made them leave, and that land can never be recovered. So they moved them down into our territory, where it expanded 10 times over. We have an asphalt cleaning facility. We know that the fracking in our area—fracking and injection wells really kicked off in 2009—has created a new monster here. It’s called earthquakes. From 2009 to 2016 we had over 10,000 manmade quakes. You can imagine what that is doing to the thousands of pipelines that are underneath us.

The largest manmade earthquake we had was 5.8. The majority are very shallow, say around .3, and maybe one-and-a-half miles under the earth, whereas a quake in California might be 20 to 30 miles under the earth. So the shaking is quite violent, and it’s right at the level of the of the water table and the pipelines.

We have had fish kills that have been so broad that deer, the bodies of deer, are lying on the banks, meaning that they’re just taking a drink and can’t even walk away from the water. That’s how toxic it can be at times. And that’s where our children play and swim. That’s where we fish. That’s what all the natural life that we’re part of, that we’re not separate from, has to depend on.

Virtually every single Ponca family has multiple cases of cancers. Every family. And those, according to our clinic, are multiple source cancers. They don’t just show up as one form of cancer, it’s everywhere. Children are being born with cancer. Everybody’s got asthma. Kids with asthma is such a normal thing that if a kid goes to school and he’s forgotten his inhaler, he knows he can borrow one from his brother, friend, cousin; everybody’s got to have those. That’s our children. My grandson Louis, was hospitalized every year of his life for asthma-related problems, and many times we have been terrified for his existence. Autoimmune diseases are rampant. Every family has someone with lupus or some related thing. One of my granddaughter’s families on the other side, both of her aunties have died from brain cancer. And there are many other diseases in that family that are directly related to the fossil fuel industry.

So now you have that overview.

A series of events brought me into this (work). Our family is activist. My great grandfather was last War Chief of the Poncas. My brother Carter Camp was an organizer and leader of the American Indian Movement and served as War Chief of Wounded Knee in 1973. My grandmas and great grandmas are the hereditary drum keepers for our women’s society. So it has been our obligation and honor to serve our people. And in our traditional ways, because we’re born into this way of life and way of understanding, our life is service. It’s not about being called an activist, which I think is so overused these days. It’s not about being called an environmentalist because, you know, we are not protecting nature, we (humans) are nature protecting itself. And so all of these are a natural way of being. To be other than that is unnatural.

You know, we humans like to label ourselves and build our egos. And right now, that ego has to be set aside if we want to continue as a species. We have to begin to recognize the root of what’s going on. For us as a family, it was civil rights when we were young. We were an activist people in the truest terms at that time. In the 1980s, when the federal government under the Department of Energy targeted Native peoples to put waste on our lands—for a million bucks they would pay you to store nuclear waste on your lands. They would pay your tribe if you would put up a toxic waste incinerator and bring toxic waste from the cities to your reservations. So when those forms of obvious environmental killers were being introduced, our activism turned into that area. Truthfully, we had lived, and still do, in survival mode for so long that we didn’t recognize what was being done to us. It was our norm to struggle to breathe. Now we can’t grow organic food within a 12-mile radius of our tribal headquarters.

That’s how bad it is. We can’t see some of the killers.

Earthworks [an organization that helps protect communities from mining and energy development risks] came out one time and my son took them on a toxic tour with a camera that captures methane gas as it is leaking. They quit after testing 30 sites. All 30 were leaking methane gas. They said ordinarily maybe 6% of the sites they test would be leaking. But for us, 30 out of 30 are leaking methane gas within a two-mile radius of our headquarters, where our community lives. And a lot of that is not just from fracking, but from the injection wells causing the earthquakes that are shaking the foundations of everything. So nothing is safe. We’re on a time bomb because of this.

So, back to plastics. We were not connecting the dots between plastic and petroleum as a society, as a Ponca people, as people in general. I come from an age group that didn’t have plastics when I was young. When they began to be part of our everyday life, we didn’t think about where do these come from? But you can put together petroleum and plastics if you pay attention.

About three years ago, my granddaughter Casey Mi’tainga (Sun Rising), and I were invited by a member of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service (TEJAS) to go to a Break Free From Plastic gathering. TEJAS was started by a beautiful family, Juan and Ana Parras down in Houston, Texas. They had come through and stayed at our house one time.

We knew how bad plastics were. We wanted to know more. At the gathering people were talking about what was going on within their territories and also globally. The global outlook is pretty scary. You know, we all think if we package our plastics correctly, if we recycle them, it’s all okay, that’s going to work. It’s not gonna work. There is no way for us to deal with this. And I remember at this particular gathering, there were many brainstorming thoughts, from how do we help people, to what should we do about this? And I remember when it got to my granddaughter (who’s a woman of few words), she said what we have been saying for many years about the petroleum. She said, “Keep it in the ground.” It’s that simple. Break Free From Plastic means break free from fossil fuels. It’s that direct.

I was watching something earlier today where they were talking about getting to net zero. I know what that means. That means they’re buying and selling the very area itself in this carbon trading scam-and-scheme that is happening with the fossil fuel people.

I was at a gathering at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues probably 10 years ago, maybe more. I was meeting with some Indigenous people from Australia and they were telling me how they were going to get some financial help that was really gonna make a difference for them—because as a people they’re struggling just like us. We have 65% unemployment where I live. And the majority of those employed are employed by tribal programs, from grants that come through. (The people from Australia) were saying (to get this financial help) all we have to do is plant trees and this is a very good, green thing to be doing. The bottom line on that trick that was being played on them was that ConocoPhillips was going to give them a million dollars a year to plant trees that weren’t part of their bioregion. That would not grow in the desert (where they live).

Hanna: And that would give them a pass to continue to pollute, in the meantime?

Camp-Horinek: What I tried to explain to these people is that what you’re doing is giving them a bullet to shoot us with because if they’re paying you to do this, that means my people are dying. It’s that simple. We’re dying.

That was my first real connection with this particular scam of carbon trading, and buying and selling air. It had already been blowing my mind that I had to buy water because my people always have treasured the water and cared for the water wherever we are. And we could always drink it. When it came out of the springs, we knew it was pure. If it was well water, we trusted it.

So I finally connected all the dots of what is poisoning us: The refineries were producing plastic. The refinery, the pipeline, the tiny plastic pellets from the fracking fluids that were in our rivers are piling up in the ocean down there on the Gulf Coast. And I thought how do humans ignore their own behavior and get to this point of we may not recover unless, and until, we take responsibility for virtually every area of life that we’re part of? And if you look at the causation of everything, it comes down to the fossil fuel industry.

Petroleum equals plastic equals poison. There’s no way that you can ignore that anymore.

Then, what does one do? I work with Movement Rights, which is an Indigenous-led organization co-founded by two women, Shannon Biggs and Pennie Opal Plant. We brought the first-ever frontline oil and gas convention (along with DC Action Lab and many other organizations) to Ponca City, to the belly of the beast, literally, to try to begin to find solutions. This is happening all over the world right now and it’s very much Indigenous-led. Because many of us still have traditional knowledge and value systems. We have prophecies that told us about this time when the Earth would decide to purify herself because humans were so out of balance. We see that in terms of what is called climate chaos and climate change. This is Earth having to rebalance. This is Her having to take charge because something has to happen. Which puts us in the position of how do we encourage our species to align natural law with human law? When we as a species do that, we have a chance of continuing within this natural life cycle that the Great Mystery has put in place.

It was through Shannon Biggs that I learned about the Rights of Nature. I met Shannon in 2011. The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (I believe) had gathered 100 women globally. With our Indigenous understanding, women are the source of life itself in terms of giving birth. But we are also the source of understanding of what is needed within our household, what is needed within our society, what is needed within the global structure right now—because we know what our village needs, we know what our children need. And so when the hundred women came together and began to share stories, Shannon Biggs talked about this thing called Rights of Nature. And I was very uneasy with it because of the manner in which laws have been made to disenfranchise Indigenous people from land, culture, and religion.

Religion was actually the thing that had brought me there because, you know, spirituality is our way, and our relationship with land, water, and air is inherent within our spirituality. I speak for myself and for the Ponca and for some of the Indigenous people in that; I certainly don’t speak for everyone. But, for instance, when the Freedom of Religion Act was passed in 1978, specifically for Native people because it was against the law for us to practice our religion for centuries, my brother Carter offhandedly said when that Freedom of Religion Act was created and put on the books and everyone celebrated, he said, “Sis, if we really had freedom of religion, why would there have to be a law?” So I thought that about Rights of Nature. Why would we have to have a law? Are you talking about building another fence around nature herself?

So we had a long discussion. And it continues today. It’s something that has been very well looked into and felt out and is ever-evolving. For instance, in New Zealand, when we traveled down there, we were with the Maori people and talking to them about the concept of, you know, we are the river and the river is us. That’s their way of being. So they gave personhood . . . not gave, I’ve got to rearrange my own way of saying it. . . they recognized the rights of the river as herself, and recognize the personhood of the river. A guardian was appointed and that guardian has the ability to bring a lawsuit against the polluters. It’s much more complex than I’m giving you but that’s the general understanding.

Around Lake Eerie, citizens are trying to be able to say that the lake herself is an entity with the right to exist within the natural laws. In Europe, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is working on this issue. In 2016, I was elected to the tribal council for the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma or living in Oklahoma, and in 2017, we made a resolution (which is like a law in our way of doing things) to stop the Keystone XL pipeline from coming through almost immediately. We put a moratorium on fracking and injection wells. We worked on Rights of Nature as a statute in our territory, as a tool to be able to keep the extractive industry and the fracking and injection wells from continuing to do the deadly work that they’re doing against all of nature. Right at this moment, we’re in the process of recognizing the rights of the two rivers in our territory. There’s a resolution that, as of yesterday, was being finalized that I’ll be taking to our council for signing. All of those things are part of how we find a solution. Break Free From Plastic has been instrumental.  

This is an aside here: I met a young lady on the set of a film that I’m working on right now. It’s an Indigenous comedy that will be on Fox called Reservation Dogs. A young man named Sterlin Harjo is the writer/director. And Taika Waititi who did Jojo Rabbit and won an Academy Award, he’s Maori and he’s the writer/ producer. So I was on the set yesterday and one of the young women on the set, Sterlin told me she’s Ponca. We were laughing about Kevin Bacon and his six degrees of separation. We have no degrees! I mean, we almost immediately find where our connections are and they’re always there. So I went to the young lady and I said, “Hey, who do you belong to?” We always go to that. And so, as it ended up, of course, she’s related directly. And I was able to tell her stories about her great, great grandfather.

So the connection to (plastics) is that Break Free From Plastic recognizes that we all have a different way to tell our stories and get them into our communities. They supported our small organization, meaning we have a little environmental justice group here, and my son has an organization called Earth Rights Defenders. He does youth camps. Or, rather, he allows youth camps to happen in this incredibly natural setting that he caretakes. (Other people would say he owns land in the Ozarks, but he gets to caretake that territory.) And Break Free From Plastic has helped my granddaughter to obtain good recording equipment so that she can travel with me gathering oral traditions that are not only from our past, but what are we doing right now around the Break Free From Plastic movement and connecting it to the petroleum industry and holding them accountable to the sovereignty and the treaty rights that are part of the government-to-government relationship that is supposed to work but has never worked? The federal government has 100% failed in their trust responsibility to our people. You know, the, health of our people (should be) paramount after they tried to kill us over and over again. But they are the ones that have allowed all those polluters to be in our territory.

Hanna: Based on what I’ve read, the idea behind Rights of Nature is that if people have afforded legal protection, or rights, to a river or other body of nature, then people can, on behalf of that body, sue or defend against a lawsuit from a polluter. Is that correct?

Camp-Horinek: That’s the idea.

Hanna: Okay. And the enforcement of that goes through what court?

Camp-Horinek: In our particular instance, we have a tribal court. The federal government has made it difficult for us but the Violence Against Women Act might give us a useful opening. Right now, if a Native woman is raped, beaten, murdered by a non-Indian on our land, we can’t arrest or prosecute. Let that sink in. We can’t arrest or prosecute White people or non-Natives on our land for anything. But the VAWA Act kind of made an exception, saying some of these things can be brought into your tribal court. That might be an opening to have (a similar thing happen with Rights of Nature). But it is going to be a true test when we get to that point because, according to our statute, we want to be able to bring to court not the guy who has been ordered to do something but the heads of the corporations that are responsible, the decision makers. Municipalities and tribes all over are looking at this as a model for themselves to use. The Nez Perce are recognizing the rights of the Snake River to exist in its natural form. This movement, as it grows, will help put teeth into the statutes and the laws as they’re created.

The United Nations passed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 and, except for several abstentions, all countries have signed on. However, it has not really been implemented. We need implementation, especially of the articles that guarantee free, prior and informed consent by tribes for any action that affects them. All of these Rights of Nature statutes will have more teeth if UNDRIP is implemented.

You know, the EPA has a particular mandate that it’s trying to achieve, and yet there are consistently people who are going around that mandate. In the case of the EPA and the people in Oklahoma, there was a midnight rider that was put into a bill in 2006 or maybe 2004 that they are now utilizing in Oklahoma to say that Native people can’t make their own environmental laws, that it has to be overseen by the state when, in fact, we have a nation-to-nation relationship with government. It’s a constant battle and challenge. And I’m up for it. If Nature cannot speak for herself because humans are too foolish to listen to her, because she doesn’t speak in this language you and I are sharing, who’s going to speak for her? Who is going to listen to those silent ones and say rabbits have the right to have a hole in the ground that’s safe for their children to be born in? Who’s going to say that the ones that fly have a right to fly in air that is pure and clean because they have followed the natural laws and humans have not?

The Rights of Nature is to reestablish and realign natural law with human law. In our case, the women’s society is going to be appointed guardians of the rivers because women have always been the carriers of the water within our womb and within our ceremonies. And mind you, every ceremony that Poncas have and that most Indigenous people have, water is included because everything that lives, water is included. So it’s a natural thing to give thanks to that water and ask for blessings for it, for oneself.

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature has asked me to chair an emerging Indigenous Council for the Rights of Nature that is going to take a global look at how, in our own territories, we find the Rights of Nature relevant within the structures that we live in. You know, a person that lives in the desert is going to view it quite differently than a person that lives in the Arctic Circle. So there are many approaches that we’re going to have. I’ve got friends that I’m hoping will be sharing with us how Rights of Nature might help them in their caretaking of the reindeer. I’ve got good friends in the Arctic Circle. I’ve got good friends down to the tip of Chile and around the world that have to find, have to find, a way to break free from plastic. A way to keep it in the ground.

The (Biden) administration is saying Build Back Better. How do we build back better in communities that are so marginalized? We can employ people first and foremost. So (that) we don’t have plastics in our environment, just like when I was a child. So (that) we can readjust the manner in which we view our place within this society, with these settlers that came into our territory and messed it up so bad.

How do we address that in this polluted territory?

Hanna: A moment ago you said, “I’m up for it.” How do you stay up for it? How do you not feel exhausted? I mean, the broken trust over so many generations, and the trauma. And even as you’re talking about the Rights of Nature, knowing that the insidiousness of wealth capitalism flows like water around obstacles to continue to extract, to continue to exploit. How do you stay in a space where you can say, “I’m up for it” even though you know it’s going to be a battle, and many battles?

Camp-Horinek: Is there a choice? That’s my answer!

Hanna: No, I guess there’s not. I mean, it’s that or you just crawl into a hole.

Camp-Horinek: My mother didn’t give up. My grandfathers and grandmothers didn’t give up. I’m a great grandmother myself. It’s an honor and a responsibility. It isn’t something that you can walk away from. You have two children. Do you ever just walk away?

Hanna: No. I am of a culture that is quite cut off from my ancestors and my land. I don’t have that sense of being part of a continuum, with the exception of my children and my mother. But I have thought to myself, if it wasn’t for my children, would I feel the same drive, the same commitment? Would I feel the same sense of, “I don’t have a choice?” I guess I can choose to let the anger and exhaustion take over or I can keep trying to make a difference. Because I don’t know what’s possible. Anything, really, is possible. So no, there’s no choice. But what does healing look like? Let’s just imagine for a moment that we’re all on a healing path. What does it look like a generation or two from now?

Camp-Horinek: I don’t think everything is as complex as humans like to make it. Are you speaking as a human that can absorb this or ignore it? That’s your choice. I believe that there is an innate will to live within all living things. We’re given a gift of life in a paradise of giving. This place that we call Mother Earth is an all-giving entity. She gives us the fruit she bears. These very cells that create our bodies are created from Earth. This breath is from the winds. The waters. The sun. We’re in this remarkable position to assume our natural spot within this life cycle. And it can be much simpler than we humans want it to be. There are only a few real powers. Those are only men in these corporations that have assumed power. And we are women within our nations that are assuming power. We know what our families, clans, villages, and the human portion of Mother Earth needs right now. We need to recognize that the sun is a power. Without the sun we would not exist. The earth is a power, the water is a power, the air is a power. The fire that lives within deer as it comes from the sun is a power. And when we recognize that, instead of looking over here at a corporation with a man who’s in charge, who thinks that money is the end result. …

Because in the end result, we can do it. Recognizing the sun, let’s do solar energy. Recognizing the wind, let’s use wind energy. Recognizing that fossil fuels are the cause of so many ills, keep it in the ground. Let’s recognize that the water herself is life, has life. And it, not the corporations, can flow around things. Those corporations are legal entities. They have walls around them. They’ve created the walls. So let’s bind them in. Let’s find our own ways of creating laws that align natural law with human law. Let’s recognize that there is a sacred system of life that’s been in place and has worked up until the so-called Industrial Age.

Hanna: What’s the role of men in your vision?

Camp-Horinek: Do you mean humans or do you mean men?

Hanna: I mean male humans.

Camp-Horinek: Oh gosh, you know, we’re blessed people in many ways. I’m going to give you an example. When we go to our ceremonies, the men in my family have particular things they do that are part of the energy that works with fire, that works with certain labors, because they have the physical and the mental alignment with (those things).

Women (are aligned) with (other things) and we work well together. We don’t have issues. And these are ceremonies that are removed from technology; these are when we’re just being on the earth. These are natural things that come to us because our energies are different. And they are powerful and they need to be recognized. I’m grateful, I’m so grateful, for the men in my life. And you know, nothing is that complex. I think that men have been disenfranchised from their natural ways. They’ve been told that they must behave in a certain manner, and that the only gift they have is to swoop in on a white horse and grab a woman and provide for her for the rest of her life. And her job. . . that’s the one that confuses me: women who disempower themselves.

But I think that finding our way back to the balance is something that’s going to require all hands on deck. And it is going to be necessary for women not to point fingers at men and for men not to point fingers at women, but for all of us to restructure our minds and our spirits into a way of saying, I have this gift. And I can do this. And I recognize in you that gift, can you do this? And maybe finding a way that we naturally source ourselves. You know, the sun doesn’t ask where to shine. The clouds don’t ask where to cover. There is a flow of energy that is both masculine and feminine, from the star nation to the sun to the moon. And everything has to find its own level, like water. It’s already there.

How do we self-motivate? I think we’re seeing it. I think we are seeing that humans are trying to become a little less judgmental of one another. We’re trying to hold each other accountable (sometimes to the point of political correctness). But at the same time, it’s our children who are hearing this rebalance. It’s our children who are breaking free of gender roles, who are breaking free from racial stereotypes, who are breaking free. So why can’t we break free from plastic? How come we can’t break free from fossil fuels? Well, we can. Let’s just do that. Warrior up!

Hanna: I’d like to ask about the federal legislation [Break Free From Plastic Act] that’s just recently been proposed. I believe you’re helping to raise awareness about that. From what I’ve read, it seems like this is the most comprehensive approach at the federal level to date, to both the upstream and downstream issues. Why is this happening now? Do you find it exciting? Or problematic? I’m curious about your take on this.

Camp-Horinek: For me, most things come from a prayerful place of spirituality and recognizing what the Earth wants, and trying to listen to those without a voice—to what they need and what they’re giving, and to be thankful for that. So this new legislation to me is part of this. It goes back to Rights of Nature and recognizing what is needed to realign natural law with human law. So when a person looks at how help can happen within the political arena, this legislation is an example of what we can do to set up a way forward for generations to come.

It will help to educate people about why plastics can’t be a part of our lifestyle in the future, why we have to pay attention to what the petroleum industry is doing, how we can educate ourselves as human beings to truly set aside our convenience for the greater good. And it has the components within it to put into law, or to ask law to say, this is something as harmful as the carcinogens that we ban in various foods. We need to just pull (plastic) right out of the diet of humankind and find a natural replacement.

So I think it’s going to be valuable in the area of getting humans to have that understanding of connecting petroleum, plastic, and poisons. Do we want to allow humans to be poisoned by this stuff? Or do we want to protect our families and the waterways and the earth? I don’t have an easy answer for that. It is as easy as we choose it to be. You know, we don’t want lead in pipes. We don’t want plastic in our food, in our water.

Hanna: So you see this more as an opportunity to educate people about the connection between what seems to be the innocuous plastic container that they got their takeout food in and the life of that material and how it affects people throughout its lifecycle?

Camp Horinek: During the [Great] Depression and prior to that, all food was organic, right? Well, humans are trying to have organic food again, now. We have to look at plastics in the same way as we look at growth hormones and preservatives. This is just one more thing we don’t want in our diet.

Hanna: Thank you so very much. I really appreciate your time.

Camp-Horinek: Thank you.

CASEY CAMP-HORINEK is Environmental Ambassador, Matriarch & Hereditary Drumkeeper of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma.
CHRISTINE HANNA is the executive director of YES! Media. She is a founder and former co-director of the Seattle Good Business Network.

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