The Ponca Rights of Nature Campaign

Law Follows Culture, Not the Other Way Around

In 2022 the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma made Rights of Nature history the second time by adopting a law recognizing the legal rights of two Rivers in their territory: Ní’skà, (the Arkansas River) and Ni’ží’dè, (the Salt Fork River). Following the Original Instructions of the tribe since time immemorial, the Ponca hereditary Women’s Society, Pa’thata, have always been the keepers of the Waters. Rivers are themselves considered sacred feminine entities by the Ponca, and by tribes around the world. Law follows culture, not the other way around. The work ahead is to make the Ponca Rights of Nature and their new Rights of Rivers’ law become a strong model that leverages and contributes to the power of the global movement for culture shift.

Movement Rights team has always been at the intersection of Rights of Nature, Indigenous Rights and climate justice. Movement Rights co-founders bring many years of experience working with Indigenous peoples and doing the work from the grassroots to the UN on the Rights of Nature. 

The Rights of Nature movement
is led by Indigenous peoples and cosmology

Globally, the Rights of Nature movement has been led by Indigenous peoples and cosmology that recognizes that human laws must realign with the laws of the natural world. Indigenous wisdom understands humans are a part of nature, not owners of it. Our survival depends on our ability to place human activities within the boundaries of the Earth’s ability to absorb our impacts.

Historically, the US legal system has been hostile

Historically, the US legal system has been hostile to recognizing Rights for the Right-less. Only through deep on the ground organizing with national and international support can we begin to change culture and law to recognize our human responsibilities to the ecosystems that sustain life.

Indigenous people are putting their bodies on the line to protect life

In the US, showcased at Standing Rock and everyplace from the Arctic Circle to the Bayou, Indigenous people have always put their bodies on the line to protect the sacred system of life.  They stand under the idea that “Water is Life” not only for their tribes, but for all humans, future generations and all forms of life. If we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate chaos, humans must learn to live in balance with the laws of the natural world. Respecting Indigenous Rights, honoring treaties, and supporting Indigenous-led Rights of Nature in North America may be our best hope for the kind of powerful culture shift needed to confront a legal system that protects elite wealth and sees nature only as property to be dominated for profit.

The Ponca Nation of Oklahoma

The Ponca Nation of Oklahoma live in a fossil fuel epicenter of fracking, pipelines petrochemical plants, and refineries. Their water is poisoned, organic food cannot be grown for 16 miles. No family is untouched by industry-related illnesses and deaths. Politicians and Big Oil call it “economic progress.”  The Ponca call it “environmental genocide.” In response, the Ponca have become leaders of what can be described as the “civil rights struggle” for the Earth’s Rights on Turtle Island, and beyond. 

Movement Rights
forms a strategic plan

Beginning in 2015, Movement Rights began to formulate a strategic plan to elevate Indigenous-led Rights of Nature in North America by making a long-term commitment to the Ponca Nation. Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca tribe of Oklahoma elder, current Environmental Ambassador and former Tribal Councilwoman, leads this work as Movement Rights board member. Casey led the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma to become the first in North America to recognize Rights of Nature in tribal law. Since that time Casey and the Ponca Nation have become a prominent national and international ambassadors for this movement.

The Rights of Nature movement
is growing

Since passing the Rights of Nature into tribal law in 2017, several tribes in US/Canada have recognized the Rights of Nature with many more interested in learning how this might work. 

Connecting with the Whanganui iwi in Aotearoa New Zealand

Movement Rights has been learning from, supporting and working with Indigenous peoples’ worldwide. In 2018 Movement Rights brought an Indigenous delegation including Casey to New Zealand to learn from the Whanganui iwi (tribe) who were the first in the world to recognize the Rights of a river, the Whanganui River, in national law.

Movement Rights has worked with, learned from and supported Indigenous tribes and communities leading the Rights of Nature in Bolivia, Ecuador, New Zealand, Colombia, India and more.

Co-founder Shannon Biggs led the President’s Panel on Rights of Nature at the 2010 Cochabamba Peoples’ Conference on Rights of Nature and Climate Change, and was present as thousands of Indigenous people drafted the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. As a founding member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN) she helped coordinate numerous global Rights of Nature tribunals featuring Indigenous land and water defenders. In 2019 she was part of a 3-person delegation to TIPNIS Bolivia to investigate violations of the Rights of Nature among many other activities. Co-founder Pennie Opal Plant, is also a co-founder of Idle No More SF Bay Area, co-leading Refinery healing walks and Indigenous-led solidarity actions across California and beyond. Pennie is also an original signatory of the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty.

Ponca Nation holds first national Frontline Oil and Gas Conference

In 2019, hosted by the Ponca Nation on their territory, we held the first national Indigenous-led Frontline Oil and Gas (FOG) conference. With over 200 attendees from the Artic Circle to the Bayou, over two days we showcased the Rights of Nature as a powerful strategy, and learned from other grassroots Indigenous and Communities of Color leaders on the frontlines of fossil fuel activities. The event was held in the Ponca way, including traditional ceremony, history and dance. We also held a march and direct action at the Phillips 66 headquarters and a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) statewide public awareness and legislative campaign was launched during the event. 

Intertribal Rights of Nature (IRON)Forums

Between 2017-2020 we held a handful of in-person and online Intertribal Rights of Nature (IRON) Forums, which have been effective ways to create a safe place for Indigenous people to question and examine the Rights of Nature as a tribal tool, or to launch a regional campaign with many tribes coordinating their efforts. We learned the importance of accelerating these Forums in 2021 and beyond. 

Beginning in 2020, as people around the world were in pandemic isolation, Ponca Environmental Ambassador Casey Camp Horinek was  at the center of our Rights of Nature webinar series viewed by tens of thousands of people across Turtle Island and around the world, available on Movement Rights YouTube channel. 

Movement Rights and the Ponca Nation have also been featured in national and international media, congressional petitions and our blog series.