Treaties with US govt say “as long as the waters flow and the grass grows,” sacred promises to future generations. Humans are the only species who have defied the laws of Nature in a quest to conquer and own them

Our treaties with the US government include the language “as long as the waters flow and the grass grows.” These words are sacred promises from our ancestors to our future generations. We hope you are ready to make these promises real for everyone who shares this, our land.

Shannon Biggs January 20, 2021, Movement Rights

Our ancestral territory and the Ogallala Aquifer is being better protected from destructive oil and gas activities, with the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. This is only a small step in the right direction. I urge you to use your Executive power to also end the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and Line 3 in your first week.

Ponca Youth Pipeline Fighters. Photo Credit Movement Rights

The caretaking of the Earth and Sky is in our hands, for humans are the only species who have defied the laws of Nature in a quest to conquer and own them. We must not only recognize the rights of humans to a clean environment, but the Rights of Nature itself—to evolve, thrive and continue its vital cycles—the Sacred Creation of which humans are only a small part. In keeping with our ancestral knowledge, Indigenous Peoples have stood firmly against the exploitation of the Canadian tar sands. We have laid our bodies on the line when your predecessors approved pipelines from Alberta through our territories—not only the Keystone XL but the DAPL, Line 3 and others.

Police Confront Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Photo Credit The Intercept

While we celebrate the end of pipelines as your administration begins, I must acknowledge that the ink of your pen on these executive orders has come from the lifeblood of the Original Peoples, and our allies over many years. At Standing Rock we gathered to pray and to stand before the machines of extraction. We were not paid to be there, and indeed most of our tribal communities live in poverty. We came to stop the DAPL pipeline from going under the Missouri River, to protect the sacred water on behalf of six tribes and 17 million Americans downstream. Many of us faced down police water cannons in freezing temperatures; we were maced, arrested, numbered with sharpie pens on our arms and held in dog cages. My number was 138. My son’s number was 4838. Following Standing Rock, many states passed laws making protesting fossil fuel activities felonies, including Oklahoma. As you know President Biden, after months (and years of work before that confrontation) the Obama administration would put ink to paper to stop DAPL. Tens of thousands returned home, only to find the next administration would reverse course.

What can be done to ensure that your Executive Orders are the last word on these pipelines? Our people shouldn’t have to stand in the cold and pray everyday on the frontlines to ensure the US government stands correct with our Treaty Rights.

Yes, we want you to “Build Back Better,” starting in our communities. We’ve already been leading this environmental justice effort for free. Give us a real green economy. That would be a real start toward correcting 500 years of genocidal policies against the Indigenous people of this land. We are global leaders of green movements, including the Rights of Nature, which provides legal standing for ecosystems in court. My own tribe was the first in the U.S. to recognize that on tribal land, Nature—including people—has the legal right to exist and regenerate its vital cycles.

After so many lies, broken treaties, cultural and historic erasure, we ask you now, “how do we believe in you?” A good start would be acknowledging the real living history of this land and its First Peoples. We are still here. At your Inauguration you could have made a land acknowledgement. A simple statement that as you were sworn in at the Capitol, you stand on occupied land of the Piscataway and Pamunkey peoples. While that inaugural moment has passed, as you travel around what we call Turtle Island, you have many opportunities to acknowledge the people who have lived here for time immemorial.

Nominated Interior Secretary Deb Haaland at the 2021 Inauguration. Photo by VOGUE

Of course, this doesn’t erase 500 years of lies and oppression. We will be more comfortable moving forward once Deb Haaland has been confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. She is an Indigenous woman who understands the work ahead to begin to trust and believe in you. Our treaties with the US government include the language “as long as the waters flow and the grass grows.” These words are sacred promises from our ancestors to our future generations. We hope you are ready to make these promises real for everyone who shares this, our land.


Learn more about Movement Rights work for climate justice, Indigenous Rights and Rights of Nature. Movement Rights is also part of the coalition to #BuildBackFossilFree, aimed at encouraging President Biden to use all the tools at his disposal to avert further climate disruption. Sign the Petition here.

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Rights-Based Law for Systemic Change

By Movement Rights, IEN & WECAN
With Contributions by Over a Dozen Rights of Nature Leaders

This report explores not just the idea of a radical shift toward recognizing rights of ecosystems (and our responsibilities to the Earth) 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 en es that now “own” themselves. They join the fast-growing list of 7 countries and dozens of local communities that are finding the only way forward to protect human communities is to shift our hearts, minds and legal frameworks to align with natural law. We can choose to shift now, while there is s ll me to escape the worst devastation of climate chaos. Failing that, we must remember Mother Earth does not negotiate.

Rights of Nature & Mother Earth

By Shannon Biggs & Tom Goldtooth

The modern world is removed from nature. A world without a living knowledge of its spiritual relationship and responsibilities to the creative principles of the natural laws of Mother Earth, results in our planet become property, without a soul, to be owned and sold. Nearly everywhere, the legal paradigm of laws protects the ownership of nature, so it is not surprising that the UN climate negotiations are rooted in the continued privatization of ecosystems and putting a price tag on the processes of the natural world.