Casey Camp-Horinek on the Tribal Rights of Nature Movement
"Speaking with Casey Camp-Horinek about her remarkable work in the tribal rights of nature movement. It was such a great conversation that we’ve made it into a two-episode podcast. This is part one.
Casey is a shero of ours and an incredibly powerful matriarch and elder. She’s a leader in the global, Indigenous led, Rights of Nature movement. Casey’s tribe, the Ponca Nation, was one of the first tribes to really adopt Rights of Nature law in the United States."
"AB: So what non-indigenous people in this movement say is that it was often started by an important article called Do Trees Have Legal Standing? written by a legal scholar named Christopher Stone in 1972. But of course, that was not the start of the movement, and the movement had no start, because Rights of Nature is inherently about what Casey said, that we are nature; nature is protecting itself, and that indigenous values and ways of relating to the planet and understanding that we can’t frack, we can’t continually extract, we have to take care of it so it can take care of us. Nature is the boss, not us. These are indigenous ideas, and these are what is encapsulated in Rights of Nature law when it’s passed, when it’s put into the Western or dominant – I don’t like that word either, Casey – when it’s put into that code, it’s a way of indigenizing the law that is enforceable by the military powers we have in this world, essentially.
So there was the 1972 article, but before that we had indigenous worldview since time immemorial. And even for people who are descendants of colonizers, descendants of immigrants and settlers in settler colonial nations like the US, Cara mentioned blood memory. At some point back in their ancestry, everybody lived indigenous ways of life with nature, prior to capitalism, prior to feudalism, prior to this excess greedy accumulation of wealth, and the one percent getting richer and richer and richer off the backs of all of us through things like fracking, extractive industries, large industry that pollutes. The biggest contributors to greenhouse gases are just a few corporations in the world, and yet we’re told to recycle. So we need to look to our indigenous worldviews around Rights of Nature.
In 2008, Ecuador added Rights of Nature protections to its constitution. That was absolutely monumental. And depending on who you talk to, it was or wasn’t indigenous led, or maybe a partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous people. But what we’re seeing right now in the US with the tribally led Rights of Nature movement is that it truly is tribally led, going through votes, going through traditional means of governance through consensus. And what Casey has shown us is that if you adopt it as your tribal law before you stick it into your IRA constitution, that’s just done so that we can communicate with the US federal government and make sure that they don’t back up those industries that extract and frack. We have to play on their terms, but we play on our terms as well.
As I mentioned earlier, Casey’s tribe was the first to adopt Rights of Nature law. It was customary law, which was traditional law before these constitutions were placed upon us as a form of further assimilation. But since then, there have been moves. Cara mentioned the Ho Chunk. They voted to make an amendment to their tribal constitution. And as Cara said, it does have to go back to the feds and back. Takes about a year at least to ratify. We did see in 2019 the White Earth band of Ojibwe adopted the Rights of Manoomin, wild rice, which was amazing. And also in 2019, as Cara mentioned, the Yurok tribe recognized the personhood of the Klamath River. And Rights of Nature is just one in a series of fights the Yurok tribe has had for decades now to protect the river since it’s been dammed, since it’s been polluted, since it’s been over-fished. And these are multi-pronged strategies."
"This is an episode of Indigeneity Conversations, a podcast series that features deep and engaging conversations with Native culture bearers, scholars, movement leaders, and non-Native allies on the most important issues and solutions in Indian Country. Bringing Indigenous voices to global conversations. "