Monday, December 11, 2017

Bioneers Indigeneity Moves on Rights of Nature

Getting Real With Bioneers Media

“For the threat on lands still intact after centuries of hostility, let us keep finding meaning in the work we give ourselves to. This morning I'm reflecting on what it might mean to see homelands slowly destroyed by the same devastation seen elsewhere. A place kept sacred and in a constant state of creation. We have to keep caring for our beings that are larger than us."
shásh jaa’ bá sodadolzin

-Dylan McLaughlin (Diné), Bioneers Indigeneity Media

Over the past three days, millions of acres of Native American sacred lands have been critically threatened as the current administration rolls back federal protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, Bears Ears National Monument, and Indian Creek National Monument for more mining and drilling. These are just the latest actions in an endless campaign to strip Native lands of their resources, violate ceremonial sites, destroy sacred burial grounds, and ultimately extinguish Native Peoples’ human rights. Since it was founded 28 years ago, Bioneers has understood that Indigenous worldviews and rights are central to protecting the planet for all of us for generations to come.
The wolfman petroglyph at Bears Ears National Monument has already been riddled with bullets. Now, this, and many other sacred rock art sites, will lose critical protection.

At any given time, there are hundreds of proposed developments to desecrate, and eventually abandon sacred Native lands to fuel our extraction-based economy. Until we change the very underlying system under which our country was founded—a system that treats Indigenous lands and ecosystems as expendable private property—the never-ending destruction of the Earth will continue. That’s why we were so excited to learn about the Rights of Nature movement. If you have heard about how the country of Ecuador wrote Rights of Nature into its Constitution, you know about Rights of Nature. If you have heard about India granting personhood to the Ganges River, you have heard about Rights of Nature. (You can learn the basics of Rights of Nature from this website, the 2016 Bioneers speech by our partners at the Community Legal Defense Fund, or the video below.)
President of Ecuador's National Coordinating Entity for Environmental NGOs, Natalia Greene, speaks on Rights of Nature in Ecuador.

Instead of current environmental law, which works within a system founded to endlessly take from the planet, Rights of Nature turns the legal system on its head. Rights of Nature is a movement of all peoples, led by urban communities, towns, tribes, and citizen action groups, to take back the law by implementing new policy that recognizes the fundamental rights of nature to exist, and if it is destroyed, to be repaired. Unlike current environmental law, Rights of Nature does not accept that nature is property.

Nature has rights.

This is what our ancestors have always said. Bioneers Indigeneity Program Director, Cara Romero, grew up in the wild of the Mojave Desert always being reminded that this pristine area belonged to the animals and that we must learn to exist without disturbing balance to the ecosystem. We talk to the plants and even sing to all the trees and the smallest ants in our songs that come from time immemorial. It’s the idea that we are actually in service to all the life givers and providers of our ecosystem. That we only take if we’ve asked, that we do not cause pain and harm to Mother Earth. Even with the rattlesnakes back home, grandma would say: “Just remember, we moved into their territory.”
Cara Romero on a recent visit to where she grew up in the Mojave Desert.
Similarly, Indigeneity Program Manager, Alexis Bunten, grew up in the temperate rainforests of the Northwest Coast with the belief that human beings are no higher than plants or animals. Nature isn’t something you own and can take from at will. We each have a relationship with all parts of nature, down to the rocks and dirt, as kin, and as such, we have a responsibility to it. If we ignore that responsibility, we are doomed. We are out of touch with reality. And that’s what the modern, consumerist, capitalist society has done and is perhaps most obvious in America at this very moment. 
Alexis Bunten with a friend hiking in Alaska
What also makes us feel so passionate about Rights of Nature is that it is not just Indigenous wisdom injected into the legal system (though you can read our blog from earlier this year to learn how Rights of Nature is based in Indigenous worldviews). Rights of Nature is something that everybody can understand, no matter where they come from. We owe nature, not the other way around.

The Bioneers Indigeneity Program is partnering with Native American communities to share ways we can protect the rights of nature through our sovereign tribal governments. In 2017, we organized two training workshops with tribal partners on the topic of Recognizing the Rights of Nature in Tribal Law, and Cara will be introducing Rights of Nature provisions to her Chemehuevi tribe in the coming months.

Rights of Nature is just the kind of big, revolutionary, paradigm-shifting idea that we love to highlight at Bioneers. Grassroots Rights of Nature policy-making holds the power to take back America, and the world, from the fossil-fuel-guzzling, hyper-capitalist economy bent on destroying itself. We are hopeful that the Rights of Nature movement will bring us together from all walks of life, all backgrounds, in our shared love for this planet and nature.

The Bioneers Indigeneity team also collected and analyzed the people, places and events that surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance into a free-to-read Standing Rock primer.

Over the next year, we invite you to follow Bioneers Indigeneity on social media and read our newsletters to hear more about how you can learn about Rights of Nature and how you can get involved.

Your financial support helps make valuable work like this possible.

Cara Romero and Alexis Bunten

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