- An Indonesian court has acquitted six villagers on the island of Bangka in a criminal case widely seen as an attempt to silence them by a company accused of polluting their village.
- Experts say the court ruling sets a precedent for future cases where environmental defenders are being censored, intimated and silenced through so-called SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) litigation.
- The villagers have since 2017 been fighting against a tapioca company, PT Bangka Asindo Agri, that operates near their community and produces waste that emits a pungent stench.
- The environment ministry has launched an investigation into the case and filed its own lawsuit against the company for unpermitted pollution; the company denies the charge and has lobbied parliament to intervene with the ministry to drop the case.
This article originally appeared in Mongabay.
Featured image: The map of Bangka in Indonesia. Image courtesy of Ewesewes/Indonesian Wikipedia.
by Hans Nicholas Jong
JAKARTA — A court in Indonesia has acquitted six villagers in a dispute against a tapioca factory, ruling that the criminal charges, allegedly brought at the behest of the company, were frivolous and could not be used to silence criticism of environmental violations.
Experts have hailed the ruling as unprecedented, as it marks the first time in Indonesia’s legal history in which a court has thrown out litigation considered a form of “strategic lawsuit against public participation” or SLAPP.
SLAPP typically describes any kind of litigation with little to no merit that’s brought with the aim of censoring, intimidating or silencing critics speaking out against those in power or on issues of public interest.
This particular case revolves around a conflict between villagers on Bangka Island, off the southeast coast of Sumatra, and a tapioca flour mill operated by PT Bangka Asindo Agri (BAA).
Since the company began operating in 2017, residents of the village of Kenanga have complained about the pungent stench coming from the waste churned out by the nearby mill. Heti Rukmana, 29, whose house is 700 meters, or less than half a mile, from the factory, said the smell was so foul and intense that she had trouble breathing.
“Whenever the rotten stench comes, I feel nauseous and want to throw up,” she told Mongabay. “My first child had a problem in her lungs when she was born. So whenever there’s a foul smell, I take my daughter to her room and close the door. I’m scared that she’ll suffocate.”
After repeatedly failing to get the company to address the issue, the villagers prepared to bring a class-action lawsuit in May 2020. Spearheading that move were six villagers, including Heti, who served as neighborhood unit chiefs at the time.
In June 2020, the six villagers were reported by a local to the police for organizing a meeting to discuss the plan, on the grounds that they were no longer serving as neighborhood unit heads by then.
Prosecutors then brought the case to a district court in Sungailiat, the Bangka district seat, charging the villagers with impersonating officials.
Lawyers representing the villagers tried to get the court to dismiss the case by arguing that the organizing of the meeting was an act to defend the residents’ rights to clean air and a healthy environment. This right is enshrined in the 2009 Environmental Protection and Management Law, which states that no criminal charges may be brought against anyone for campaigning for their right to a clean environment. The article is commonly referred as an anti-SLAPP measure to thwart malicious lawsuits.
Nevertheless, the court proceeded to rule the six villagers guilty of the impersonation charge, arguing that their crime wasn’t related to the residents’ fight for a clean environment. The court sentenced them to a month in prison, prompting them to file an appeal with the provincial high court.
At the high court, the judges agreed with the villagers, saying their right to fight for a clean environment is protected under the 2009 environmental protection law and thus they can’t face criminal charges for exercising that right. The high court subsequently overturned the district court’s ruling, acquitting Heti and the five other former neighborhood unit chiefs.
“The defendants’ actions were merely to give the public [an opportunity to] participate in the public interest on the effect of pollution in the form of smell caused by the production activities of PT BAA,” the high court judges said in their verdict.
The legal victory for the six villagers is monumental as it is the first time an Indonesian court has ruled in favor of environmental defenders by using the anti-SLAPP article in a criminal case.
But the case should never have gotten as far as the high court, and the villagers should never have been jailed in the first place if police investigators and prosecutors had acknowledged early on that the charges were malicious and frivolous, according to the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), an NGO.
As such, this verdict should serve as a stepping stone toward better protection for communities and activities against SLAPP, ICEL executive director Raynaldo Sembiring said. A stand-alone regulation and law would provide that stronger protection, he added.
“The anti-SLAPP mechanism is not strong yet because we don’t have regulations or policies that could be implemented, except for the anti-SLAPP article [in the 2009 environmental protection law],” Raynaldo said. “So we could start discussing the opportunity to have an anti-SLAPP law.”
Such a law would provide a stronger guarantee for public participation, protection and remedy, and clearer authority for law enforcers to stop SLAPP cases as early as possible.
But the prospects of passing such a law are weak, given parliament’s track record of stalling legislation aimed at protecting public interests, versus its zeal for fast-tracking controversial bills aimed at environmental deregulation in favor of business interests.
“Therefore, we hope that the government could draft an implementing regulation for the anti-SLAPP article as soon as possible, possibly in the form of a ministerial regulation,” Raynaldo said.
However, even without having stand-alone regulations in place, law enforcers are actually able to stop SLAPP cases before they go to court, since a mechanism to end investigations and prosecutions already exists in the country’s Criminal Code.
“This is also an important moment for investigators to coordinate with ministers, the Attorney General’s Office and the police,” Raynaldo said. “These institutions can build communication and stop [SLAPP] cases as early as possible.
“In the past, it might have been difficult because there were no rulings that used the anti-SLAPP article,” he added. “That’s why this ruling should be a stepping stone to be replicated [in future cases].”
Muhnur Satyaprabu, a lawyer for the six Kenanga villagers, said the district court’s guilty verdict is an example of how local communities are fighting an uphill battle against polluters and law enforcers who often side with corporate interests.
He said there were irregularities throughout the legal process, with the lawyers denied the right to present supplemental evidence, on the grounds that the new evidence hadn’t been entered into the court dossier. Yet the district court judges allowed prosecutors to present additional witnesses who also were not listed in the dossier.
Muhnur also pointed to irregularities in how the police dealt with the case, particularly the detention of the six villagers: Heti was two months pregnant at the time, and another of the villagers was recovering from a stroke.
Heti said she was placed in a cell block with 39 male inmates. After eight days in the police’s detention center, the six villagers were transferred to a larger prison, where they spent another 14 days.
During her time there, Heti said she asked the warden whether she could spend time outdoor to get some sunshine for the health of her fetus.
“But I wasn’t allowed,” she said. “So [I spent] 18 days in a closed room, with no sunlight at all. I slept on a tiled floor with no mat.”
Heti said the villagers were also intimidated during their time in prison to dismiss their lawyers — something that Heti vehemently opposed. She added didn’t feel scared because she knew she hadn’t done anything wrong.
“But I did miss my family because I have a 2-year-old daughter,” she said. “And I felt disappointed because the person who reported us [to the police] was our own neighbor, instead of the company. So we’re being pitted against each other [by the company].”
Heti said she believed BAA was be behind the lawsuit, regardless of the fact that it was her neighbor who reported them to the police. For one thing, she said, when police were interrogating them, one of the investigators said they could be released if they just apologized to the company.
“The police officer himself said, ‘You disturbed the company, you disturbed people with money. If you want this case to end, go ahead and apologize to the company,’” Heti said.
She said she was also approached by police and state security officers three times prior to being reported to the police. On each occasion, she said, they told her to stop speaking out against BAA. They offered her 50 million rupiah ($3,500) and a used car in exchange for her silence, Heti added.
She said there was no way she would sell out her village for an old car.
“I just wanted the waste to stop [polluting my village],” Heti said.
BAA has denied allegations that it was behind the lawsuit.
“We see that there’s an effort to link this [case] with PT BAA,” the company’s lawyer, Arifin Joshua Sitorus, said during a hearing before parliament on April 7. “But actually there’s no connection between the case and PT BAA.”
Muhnur said all the irregularities highlighted in the case point to abuses of power, and therefore strengthen suspicions that the villagers are being criminalized for standing up against the company.
“The lesson here is that abuse of power at the local level is rampant, especially when it comes to environmental defenders,” he said. “They’re very prone to criminalization. Their protection is not strong because the media and the civil society are not strong enough.”
Arifin, however, said it was BAA that was the victim of criminalization in this case, since the environment ministry filed a lawsuit in March against the company for unpermitted pollution.
He said the lawsuit should have been a last legal resort, after other forms of punishment, such as administrative sanctions.
“[But the ministry] had never given [BAA] administrative sanctions [before the lawsuit], and law enforcement suddenly came out of nowhere,” Arifin said. “This is what we perceive as an effort to criminalize [BAA].”
The environment ministry’s law enforcement chief, Rasio Ridho Sani, said the government was entitled to file a lawsuit against a polluter if their activities had caused an impact, as in the case of BAA.
Arifin denied that BAA had polluted the environment, saying the company has the best wastewater management system of the five tapioca factories operating in Bangka. Firdianto, BAA’s owner and president, said the factory’s operations had indeed produced a pungent smell in the first two years, but that subsequent treatment of the liquid waste had put an end to the smell.
“[In] 2019, [the smell] was practically completely gone,” Firdianto said at April’s parliamentary hearing. “All of our waste has met [regulatory] standards.”
Heti, though, said the smell is still there, even though it comes and goes depending on the direction of the wind, and is not as intense as when the factory started operating.
The environment ministry also found during its investigation in 2020 that the level of methanethiol — a colorless, flammable gas with the distinctly putrid odor of rotten eggs — produced by the factory exceeded regulatory limits.
Darori Wonodipuro, a lawmaker from the Gerindra party who paid an impromptu visit to the factory in November 2020, said the smell was so strong that he could barely stand it.
“Ten minutes [there] and we were already asking to go home because [we] couldn’t stand the smell,” he said during the hearing with the BAA representatives.
Arifin, the company’s lawyer, called on parliament to intervene and stop the environment ministry’s investigation, which he called “thick with arrogance.”
Darori said parliament should not interfere with the ministry’s legal efforts, adding the case should be settled in court.
This is not the first time BAA has sought protection against the environment ministry’s probe and lawsuit. Rasio, the ministry’s enforcement head, said BAA has been resisting efforts to investigate the factory’s operations. He said the company had failed to make officials available for questioning whenever the ministry summoned them.
Instead of cooperating in the investigation, the company sent letters in May 2020 to various government institutions, including the president, the state intelligence agency, the police and the Attorney General’s Office, accusing the environment ministry of criminalizing BAA, according to Rasio.
And the company also refused to sign the minutes drawn up by the ministry after inspectors had conducted a field investigation, he added.
“We have handled so many cases, thousands of them, but this resistance by PT BAA is not right,” Rasio said. “They should just explain the matter to us.”
Rasio added the ministry would proceed with its case despite the company’s belligerence.
Heti said the Kenanga villagers would also continue with their fight, even though some of them are still fearful of ending up in jail.
“We won’t back off. I myself am still posting news [about the smell] on social media,” she said. “People should realize that this company is not right. Instead of working on its waste [management], we were pitted against each other and against law enforcers. So we have to fight.”
Editor’s Note: In today’s piece, we bring to you two issues from New Delhi, India. First, the Dwarka forest is being threatened with deforestation for redevelopment projects. Second, the spotted deer in Deer Park are being relocated to a different state because the authorities now believe that the deer have become “unmanageable.” The eco-suicidal drive of our collective culture is what makes decisions. The needs of nature and life come secondary. Both of these issues are a reflection of the same trend. The two issues are followed by a video from one of our readers. We thank Tannuja for providing us with the stories and David for offering the video.
Deforestation in Dwarka Forest
An obscure 120 acre forestland in Dwarka, New Delhi, India.
This dense forest, hardly known to the public of Delhi, is located right behind New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport’s T3 Terminal. It is a newly grown forest that is under the threat of eradication due to rapid urbanization taking place in the area.
- Home to several species of both flora and fauna. Wildlife such as spotted deer, nilgai, local species of birds and many other animals have been thriving in the jungle peacefully.
- This forest is close to Sahibi river, though it is newly grown forest (around after 2008), it falls in the migratory route of Birds arriving at Great Najafgarh Lake.
- It also decreases the habitat concentration (overpopulation stress) from Najafgarh Lake.
- Delhi airport emissions are on a constant rise. So, this natural forest soaks up all that massive carbon emissions as it is situated pretty close. Shielding Dwarka citizens from jet fumes.
- Delhi airport is an urban heat-island and this forest helps regulate the rising temperature.
- Reports state that due to excessive groundwater extraction – nearby areas are going to SINK! This forest falls in low lying area so it recharges so much water to keep the Dwarka & Kapashera areas from sinking.
What is the crisis that has struck?
Recently, it was reported by a local resident named Mr. Naveen Solanki, that the forest is rapidly being destroyed by the Railways Authority for Bijwasan Railway Terminal Redevelopment Project. Since January 2022, he has been defending the forest on his own and has even filed a complaint in the Forest Department of New Delhi against the same. Yet the complaints have been going unheard.
Even earlier, the Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) had been slapped with a fine of almost 5.9 crore rupees (750,000 USD) by the Forest Department for felling 900 trees in the forest. The aggressive and rapid deforestation in the area continues to take place to this date for the Railways Project.
The wildlife that live in the forest, are at large risk of not only losing their home but being killed off as well by having no other option but to come out on the roads and into nearby areas with human settlements.
“Will the Government of India and authorities involved, do the right thing by putting an end to this atrocious eradicating of our forest lands?”
Link to complaints made by Mr. Solanki made public via. his Twitter account
Relocation of Deer from Deer Park
Hauz Khas, South District, New Delhi, India.
This is a 60 year old, sprawling 60 acre bio-diversity park that is situated within the heart of the capital city. It was named after activist and social worker Aditya Nath Jha and popularly known as “Deer Park” because of the significant population of spotted deer — which it has been home to for the last six decades.
- A landmark place in the capital, it is home to not just the spotted deer population but hundreds of local species of birds, most notably the Indian peafowl, ducks and also a significant population of Indian monkeys and rabbits, along with a variety of flora as well.
- For the last 60 years, the wild animals in the park have been thriving without any direct human intervention so far. Which is a matter of great feat considering Delhi has lost almost its entire wildlife population throughout the courses of its history.
- One of the largest green belts to exist in New Delhi, it would be right to call it as one of “the lungs of Delhi” because it, collectively with other green belts, provides clean and fresh air in the otherwise heavily polluted capital city.
- Plus, the existence of wild animals and to see them thriving within the park premises, is a sight to behold.
What is the crisis that has struck?
Very recently, The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India, along with The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has passed an order deeming the existence of spotted deer population in the park as unmanageable.
So, it not only stripped-off the park of its “mini-zoo” title, but has decided to shut it completely by relocating its entire deer population (over 600 in number) to their “natural habitat” in the western state of Rajasthan — to be served as prey to other wild animals there. The place where the government wants to dump them (Rajasthan) is a desert state, with extreme arid climate throughout the year. These deer are used to living in the bearable, if not pleasant climate of New Delhi throughout their hundreds of generations. Now imagine getting dumped somewhere where there are no water sources readily available along with no grassland. The deer would come into a state of shock from not just the animals who’d want to hunt them but also the scarcity of their regular diets which they have been used to for years. The rise in the number of deer should’ve been a matter of pride and celebration, not an excuse to kick them out of their own home and take it all over.
Also, it would completely be put under the management of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) once the deer are relocated, which means that its landscaping would be altered or changed, to make it more accessible to humans/public.
“If the population of deer has become unmanageable, then why are the entire deer being relocated and not just a percentage of them?”
The concerned people of Delhi also fear that once the deer population is gone, then DDA also might start indulging the catering/event mafias in the park — to host private events and parties of the South Delhi elites in the park premises. The park would become a human-infested picnic spot and the talks about the authorities indulging catering/event mafias in its premises later on just might be right.This would only lead to littering and pollution in the park and impact/disturb its other wildlife residents that have been living peacefully there for the last six decades. Plus, many who have grown up in Delhi, have sentimental memories/values attached to the Deer Park. Hence, losing such a wildlife haven that has been there for the last sixty years in the heart of our city, has become nothing less than an utter shock to all of us.
Links to published pieces on the same issue via. various Indian media houses
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the book Wild Yoga by Rebecca Wildbear. In this excerpt, Rebecca talks about connecting with spirituality, and demonstrates how caring for the nature and other nonhumans is an integral part of it. Learn more about her work at the end of this post.
I walk through the cave’s rocky, wet terrain, placing my hand on a wall to steady myself as my eyes adjust to the dark. Pausing, I hear the soft, dripping echo of dew sliding off rock. It sounds like a heartbeat from within this cool earthen interior. As water trickles over my feet, I remember watching springs emerge from darkness, rising from under the ground to feed streams, lakes, and rivers. I thank these waters for nourishing all life on our planet.
As a guide, I invite others to be nourished by the imaginal waters that spring forth from the depths, releasing visionary potential, expanding consciousness, and revealing other ways to live. Being in our deep imagination while attuning to nature’s wild imagination can enlarge our perception, align us with a deeper intelligence, and remind us of ancient and new potentialities. Grounded in reverence for the living planet, we can listen for what she needs.
Visions and dreams spring forth from the belly of the Earth, as does actual water, to nourish our souls and the world’s soul and keep everything alive. The majority of drinkable water worldwide comes from underground aquifers, now being rapidly drawn down. Rain is unable to replenish the amount being mined. Globally, water use has risen to more than twice the rate of population growth. It is still increasing. Ninety percent of water used by humans is consumed by industry and agriculture. When these waters are overused, lakes, streams, and rivers dry up.
In the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, a third of houses lack running water; in some towns, the figure is 90 percent. Peabody Energy, a large coal producer and Fortune 500 company, pulled so much water from the Navajo aquifer before closing its mining operation in 2019 that many wells and springs have run dry. And it is not only coal mining that usurps water. Since 1980, lithium mining companies in Chile have made billions consuming so much water that indigenous Atacama villagers were forced to abandon their settlements. For millennia, they had used their scarce water supply carefully. Now, where hundreds of flamingos once lived on beautiful lagoons, the ground is hard and cracked.
The cave womb of the Earth is creative and life-giving but fragile. As we bring awareness to life underneath the surface, we can grieve and offer our tears for the massive losses of groundwater and the poisoning of underground waterways. We can pray for a vision to help us respond to clear-cut forests, plowed prairies, drained wetlands, and the harms of human-only land use, like mining and agriculture. It is hard to bear witness, but we are part of the Earth’s body. We need to feel what is happening and seek and offer help.
Spirit abides in all living things and is inseparable from the natural world. To destroy the Earth is to desecrate God. Prayer is a way of being present and in relationship with everything. We begin to restore balance when we honor the sanctity of life. By listening to dreams, our muses, and nature, we align ourselves with powerful allies and can glean our purpose and understand how to serve the whole. The harm humans are causing the Earth asks us to return to her, listen, and pray for visions that can help us restore balance.
Into the Heart of the World
Opening to the suffering of the Earth carries us into the heart of the world. It is gut-wrenching to see the world around us becoming more damaged. The pain is not something we can deal with and move on. Once we finally grasp the immensity of ecological devastation, it is hard to bear the feelings of depression, rage, anxiety, cynicism, overwhelm, hopelessness, despair, and apathy. The feelings are not ours alone, but what we are sensing from our planet home. Stephen Harrod Buhner wrote it’s “our feeling response to a communication from the heart of Earth” urging us “to re-inhabit our interbeing with the world.” We need to face what is happening and let the feelings speak to us. To listen to their messages and let them alter the course we are on.
Whatever we love and may lose carries us into the world’s heart. When I was twenty-one, I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma and thought I might die. Many people prayed for me. Their good wishes healed me and brought me joy. I was surprised by how well I felt, despite the physical pain. Later, I wondered if their prayers had helped me feel good.
Prayer connects us to the moment and invites us into a cocreative partnership with life. In the yoga asana classes I teach, I invite our movements to be prayer and our bodies to be a doorway to the sacred.
I pray with others in nature, guiding people to let go and listen. To feel their unmet longing to find deeper meaning and purpose, to become whole and live a soul-centered existence. Sometimes the prayers we live can feel intensely tricky. In the cave womb of transformation, visions can emerge, and the dark nights of our souls can pull us toward the holy mystery at the center of our lives.
I am aligned with my soul, and I know others who are too. Yet ecosystems are collapsing under the greed of global capitalism, and more species and lands die each day. Our prayers need to stretch beyond the individual. Soul-making is a collaboration tied to the fate of Earth, asking us to descend into the collective dark night of our planet. To love the natural world is to weep at how humanity harms her. If we open to the tremendous sorrow of our failure to protect oceans, forests, and rivers, this can bring us into the world’s heart, dismembering our sense of self and what we have believed about the world. We can receive visions for the Earth through a collective descent into the underworldly depths. We can let the Earth touch us and listen to what she is saying through feelings engendered in our hearts.
Alicia, a young woman who lives in a yurt in southwestern Colorado, places her forehead and hands on the red soil of the desert. “This isn’t yours,” she cries, fierce and mournful. “This belongs to all of us.” She repeats this phrase over and over, her voice increasing in intensity, her hands slapping the ground.
Sixteen of us sit in circle in the Utah desert, participating in a five-day Prayers in the Dark program. The sky is blue, and the sun is bright. It is late morning, and the desert is silent except for the occasional call of a mourning dove. Today, we are engaged in a ceremony similar to the Truth Mandala practice developed by Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy, expressing our feelings about what is happening to the planet. Mary stands up and opens her mouth in a bloodcurdling scream.
The group is silent, frozen, taking in her scream. It pierces us and the land and is disturbing and relieving as if we had all howled, shrieked, or wailed.
Alex says, “I grew up on the Boundary Waters,” a wilderness area in Minnesota that is part of the Superior National Forest. He talks about canoeing as a child and all the birds he saw. “Trump has granted leases to mining companies,” he points out, referring to a past American president. “The land and water will be poisoned.”
Thomas, from Wyoming, is trembling and in tears. I asked him if he wanted to share his thoughts with the group. He shakes his head no. “I can’t speak,” he says, choking. “It’s too sad.”
I feel my longing for cement, metal, and tin to melt away. For machines that mine the Earth to be dismantled. For rivers to run clear and be full of salmon. Flocks of birds to darken the sky. Ancient trees to cover the land. Oceans to teem with whales, dolphins, and coral. People to stop extracting and start honoring. The Earth to breathe herself alive.
“Close your eyes and root in the Earth,” I suggest to the group. “Imagine you are liquifying in a cocoon or hibernating in a cave. Descend into your despair and listen for what emerges. Ask for visions of how we can respond.”
Our souls are linked to the underground heart of the world. Deeper under the surface of our planet than water is fire. Magma, a hot, semifluid material, can move up to the surface and be ejected as lava. Our feelings are linked to what is happening on our planet. Our fire — our rage — is an active and receptive grief cry. We can speak and listen, surrender and serve, and offer ourselves. We can embody what we receive as responses arise through images, emotions, words, dreams, or sensations. To live and die the visions we are given is a prayer.
An ongoing relationship with death changed my life and kept me close to the Mystery. My scare with cancer did not end once I was in remission. Symptoms I felt when I had cancer — pressure in my chest, a chronic cough, nausea — sometimes returned. I had frequent CAT scans after I recovered, checking to see if it had reappeared. Statistically, the odds of a reoccurrence were high. I worried cancer would return, and I’m incredibly grateful it did not.
Death will claim all of us and those we love one day. It preys on us, bringing us to our knees in humility, inspiring us to pray and listen. Death initiated me into the mysteries, connecting me more deeply with my soul and the sacred. Nature is a place where I’ve always experienced the holy. When I had cancer, I also encountered a divine presence within me. I didn’t know what it was then. Now I understand it as an aspect of my mythic soul.
Our death can feed the spirits if we offer our lives to what matters. According to Martín Prechtel, young people in the Tz’utujil Mayan village where he lived “wrestled with death” during their initiation ceremonies. They tried to court their souls back from death with eloquence. Death was likely to agree to give them their souls only if the initiates committed to “ritually render a percentage of the fruit of [their] art, [their] eloquence, and [their] imagination to the other world.” The Earth and Spirit are fed by how we live and die. I imagine them starving and grieving for people to listen, create beauty, and give back. When we live and die eloquently, our lives and deaths nourish the spirit world, like a grandmother tree nourishes a forest in her life and death.
Guiding on rivers, I sometimes feel close to death. Praying for my life, I am surprised by the images that arise and remind me of what I love and value — the sacred beauty of wild places; quiet moments alone with my body and my muse; being with loved ones, my dog Xander, friends; swimming or rafting; water.
On quests, I guide others to put their lives on the altar if they are emotionally and developmentally ready. Seeking a psychospiritual death is part of their prayer to receive a vision of their deeper purpose. People sometimes encounter their souls on their deathbeds, but they have no time left to live it. Intentionally letting go of the familiar and stepping into a liminal unknown is a kind of death, and visions of soul or other extraordinary or numinous possibilities can come. Some questers seek an initiatory dismemberment, hoping to receive what David Whyte calls
your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.
In a meadow in the Colorado high country, twelve people stand at the edge of a portal made of sticks, pine cones, and flowers. A deer peers out from behind a ponderosa pine. Quaking aspens, lupines, and bluebells surround us. Each person reads their prayer before walking across the threshold to fast alone in the wilderness for three days and nights.
Initiation ceremonies like these were common in ancient cultures of indigenous and nature-based peoples, and some still do them. Yet, as Martín Prechtel explained, when an entire culture “refuses to wrestle death with eloquence, then death comes up to the surface to eat us in a literal way, with wars and depression.” Perhaps if modern Western culture supported its people to grow and face death, it would stop consuming all life on the planet.
The dominant culture will not last. Founded on the principles of individualism, capitalism, human supremacy, white supremacy, and colonialism, this mainstream culture is incompatible with the Earth’s living systems. Yet industrial civilization continues on the path of futile addiction to an unsustainable lifestyle, in denial of its impending collapse.
The world will be healthier once the dominant culture ends — animals, plants, water, soil, developing nations, indigenous cultures, and rural people. The sooner it comes to a halt, the more animals, fish, trees, and rivers will remain, and the more likely it is that we will have sustainable food sources for future generations. Waiting for things to unravel may make the crash worse for humans and nonhumans living through it and those who come afterward.
If only the ecological crisis would catalyze radical change that would compel industrial civilization to let go of harming the natural world to keep itself alive. Government and corporate leaders and the systems of power that rule society do not seem willing to put global empire on the ceremonial altar, despite how much harm it causes. The global empire has been going on for a long time without any significant shift. Individuals and communities need to reclaim the power to take the necessary courageous steps to ensure global empire is put on the altar. We can let go of what we don’t believe in and know isn’t working. We can align with what and who truly matters.
Modern culture has separated us from our land and the instinct to protect it. We reclaim power when we deepen our relationship with the Earth and descend into the heart of our planet to grieve and receive visions for our souls and the world. Visions imbue us with mysterious powers and guide us into greater alignment with nature in ways our minds can’t conceive. Dreams are real. Listening gives us authentic power by which we can change the world, bringing together our visionary and revolutionary natures.
When we let go, we don’t know what is next. We descend into our prerational instincts, listen and attune to our planet home, and invite our visionary selves to guide us. A caterpillar offers her life in the cocoon, not knowing she will metamorphose into a butterfly. We can liquefy in our wild imagination and pray within the dark Earth. Feeling our watery souls and the water flowing under the ground, we can pray for a vision to help us restore forests, birds, oceans, and justice. Yearning for a world where the sacred is blended with all we do, we can partner with the dream of the Earth. Will the universe hear us and respond?
I close my eyes and remember visions — mine and others’ — that have sprung forth from the depths of wild nature and dreamtime. I remember springs I have drunk from in the wild, my lips on a mossy rock, my mouth filling with the sweet flavor and vibrant texture of waters that have long gestated in the dark Earth until they were ready to rise. I lean in and receive the generosity of water, longing for her elixirs to stir visions of ways to halt the human-caused harm and restore and nourish her ecosystems back to life.
A Wild Yoga Practice for Praying within the Dark Earth
Go out at night or find a dark place in nature, be present in your body with all your feelings, and listen, wait, and pray. Find a cave or other wild place where you can sit in darkness. Imagine yourself deep inside the Earth. See if you can sense the place where water arises or feel her heartbeat. Imagine you are gestating in the underground heart of the world. Wait and listen. Notice what you feel and what arises. Ask the Earth what she wants. Explore whatever comes with all of your senses. Write or create art to honor the visions you receive. Let them guide your actions in the world.
About Wild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth
Wild Yoga invites you to create a personal yoga practice that seamlessly melds health and well-being with spiritual insight, Earth stewardship, and cultural transformation. Wilderness guide and yoga instructor Rebecca Wildbear came to yoga after a life-threatening encounter with cancer in her twenties. Over years of teaching and healing, she devised the unique and user-friendly practice she presents in Wild Yoga. In this book, she guides you in connecting to the natural world and living from your soul while also addressing environmental activism. Whether you are new to yoga or an experienced practitioner, by engaging in this vibrant approach, you’ll discover greater levels of love, purpose, and creativity, along with the active awareness we know our planet deserves.
In this video produced by New World Library, Rebecca Wildbear discusses how Wild Yoga connects us to the Earth. Check out this excerpt from the book, “Playing Your Part in the Symphony,” on the publisher’s website.
Rebecca Wildbear is the author of Wild Yoga:A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth and the creator of a yoga practice called Wild Yoga, which empowers individuals to tune in to the mysteries that live within the Earth’s community, dreams, and their own wild nature so they may live a life of creative service. She has led Wild Yoga programs since 2007 and guides other nature and soul programs through Animas Valley Institute. Visit her at http://www.rebeccawildbear.com.
Excerpted from the book Wild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth Copyright ©2023 by Rebecca Wildbear. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
Featured image: Rebecca Wildbear, from www.rebeccawildbear.com
Editor’s Note: This press release from CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund) describes a gag order put against an activist, Tish O’Dell, for talking about her concerns on the use of an industrial byproduct in her community. The gag order was placed in 2012. Since then, tests have affirmed that not only was the product toxic, it is also high in radioactive elements. Lawsuits by big corporations against activists are one of the tools used to shut down any form of resistance. We have talked about it also in the context of the lawsuit against activists and tribal members involved in protecting Thacker Pass. After a decade during which new research has been conducted, Tish O’Dell has appealed for a termination on the gag order.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 19, 2023
Terry Lodge, Attorney CELDF
OHIO, Cuyahoga County – On Friday, June 16, a motion was filed in the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas for relief from judgment for Tish O’Dell to terminate the permanent injunction from a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) filed against her in March 2012 by Duck Creek Energy which claimed defamation and loss of business profits.
O’Dell had been active at the time, educating both her community, elected leaders and neighbors about the harmful effects of urban oil/gas drilling happening in her community of Broadview Heights and surrounding communities by sending emails, posting information online and attending community meetings. In the process, she had learned of Duck Creek Energy’s road de-icer, AquaSalina, which according to Duck Creek Energy President, Dave Mansbery, was a byproduct of oil/gas drilling. O’Dell’s concern increased upon learning, from test results reported to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), about the high levels of substances like benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene contained within the supposedly harmless de-icer. These substances are known to be carcinogenic. She also continued to conduct more research on ODNR’s website and in other places in order to inform herself and educate others as to what takes place during the drilling process and fracking.
“When I learned that AquaSalina was being used on my community’s streets as well as in neighboring communities, I wanted to inform people about what I had learned,” said O’Dell. “I felt people needed to know what was being spread on the roads that they, their kids, and their pets were walking on. And common sense indicated to me that what is spread on our streets gets into our air and our lawns and goes down street drains to water supplies. I knew the oil/gas industry was powerful, but I also believed in my right and everyone’s right to free speech and the right to question the government and their decisions. I had never heard of a SLAPP lawsuit until there was a knock at my front door and the person asked if I was Tish O’Dell and told me ‘You’ve been served’.”
After a year of court filings, depositions, and much pressure directed against O’Dell’s inclination to go to trial, a settlement was signed in the fall of 2013. Part of the settlement involved granting a permanent injunction, an extraordinary remedy in a defamation case, against O’Dell, prohibiting her from using certain words to describe the product AquaSalina. During this time Mansbery began bottling and selling the product on store shelves in local hardware stores and even at several Lowe’s locations in Ohio. This afforded activists and scientists the opportunity to purchase the product and begin testing it. And in the decade since, there has been much research and testing of the product by the state agency ODNR, universities, Rolling Stone Magazine and other publications. The tests affirmed that not only was the product chemically toxic, it is also high in radioactive elements, Radium 226 and 228. In October 2021 the Ohio Department of Transportation stopped using AquaSalina in part because of the environmental concerns.
Because these recent test results and scientific research papers didn’t exist in 2012, O’Dell is filing this motion to dissolve the court order so she can again speak freely and warn people about the dangers of this product to both humans and nature. There have been several attempts over the past few years to pass a law at the state level which would make a commodity out of this drilling byproduct. And with the state opening up leasing of park land for fracking this year, there will be more brine produced.
“SLAPP suits are just another tool used by industry and corporations to silence and intimidate those who speak out against them and their activities,” stated Wyatt Sugrue, Chicago attorney. “The goal is not only to silence journalists, individuals and organizations, but to also make others afraid to speak up. In recent years there have been high profile cases of SLAPP suits against John Oliver and HBO, Mother Jones Magazine and recently Texas Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke who was served with a SLAPP by the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, Kelcy Warren.”
As stated in the motion:
The Ohio court system has in essence allowed a limited-purpose public figure, Duck Creek Energy, to immunize itself from public scrutiny, and the court system is acting as the personal police force for the company to stop such scrutiny.
“What I have learned over the past decade is how our system, controlled by an elite minority, is quashing the people’s constitutional rights. I witnessed this first hand working with so many great people across the state who were also attempting to protect their own communities and nature. They inspired me to do this,” stated O’Dell. “I can’t just tell others to stand up for their rights and what they believe in and to have courage even when it seems scary, and not practice what I preach.”
A recent article by EarthJustice, September 2022, sums it up, “We aspire for the courts to be an institution that upholds the rights of all, however, SLAPP suits are a way for the rich and powerful to abuse the court system and turn it into a tool that silences individuals and organizations. SLAPP suits disguise themselves as legitimate lawsuits, and while most end up being dismissed, their real goal is quashing legitimate dissent and protest in the process. Protesting is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, a right so important in the early days of our country that it is explicitly included in the first amendment. One thing is clear. Our courts must uphold this right for everyone and cannot become tools for the rich and powerful to abuse power and limit the ability of all of us to seek justice and speak out against issues impacting our communities.”
In the O’Rourke SLAPP, it has been discovered that Warren, the plaintiff, has also made campaign contributions to six of the nine Texas Supreme Court Justices that could ultimately hear the case.
According to CELDF Attorney Terry Lodge, “Ending the gag order on Tish O’Dell is important to our work as an organization. CELDF works with community members and activists throughout the state and country to assert their constitutional and democratic rights to expose harms and stand up for protecting the community and nature. If the wealthy and powerful can file lawsuits to silence their voices, those must always be opposed.”
Photo by Kilian Karger on Unsplash
Editor’s Note: In order to deter the tribal members and activists from fighting for Thacker Pass, Lithium Nevada has sued them. Unsurprisingly, as a corporation, they have greater funds to sustain their legal action. We appeal for all who can to support in whatever way you can. The details for financial donations are at the end of the post.
Lithium Nevada Corporation has filed a lawsuit against Protect Thacker Pass and seven people for opposing the Thacker Pass lithium mine.
The lawsuit is similar to what is called a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” or SLAPP suit, aimed at shutting down free speech and protest. The suit aims to ban the prayerful land defenders from the area and force them to pay monetary damages which could total millions of dollars.
“This lawsuit is targeting Native Americans and their allies for a non-violent prayer to protect the 1865 Thacker Pass massacre site,” said Terry Lodge, attorney working with the group. “These people took a moral stand in the form of civil disobedience. They are being unjustly targeted with sweeping charges that have little relationship to the truth, and we will vigorously defend them.”
The lawsuit targets Dean Barlese, respected elder and spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Dorece Sam from the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, Bhie-Cie Zahn-Nahtzu (Te-Moak Shoshone and Washoe), Bethany Sam from the Standing Rock Sioux and Kutzadika’a Paiute Tribes, Founding Director of Community Rights US Paul Cienfuegos, and Max Wilbert and Will Falk of Protect Thacker Pass, which is also named in the suit.
They are charged with Civil Conspiracy, Nuisance, Trespass, Tortious Interference with Contractual Relations, Tortious Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage, and Unjust Enrichment.
As part of the lawsuit, Lithium Nevada has been granted a Temporary Restraining Order which restricts the defendants and “any third party acting in concert” with them from interfering with construction, blocking access roads, or even being in the area. The accused parties are not involved in planning further protest activity at the mine site.
Regardless, these allegations are alarming to the Great Basin Native American communities who believe their religious practices are protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. The lawsuit’s language places fear in the hearts of Native American people who want to pray and visit their ancestors’ gravesites.
The case references instances of non-violent prayer and protest that took place on April 25th, and a prayer camp named after Ox Sam (survivor of the 1865 massacre and ancestor of Dorece Sam and Dean Barlese) which was established at Thacker Pass on May 11th. On June 8th, that camp was raided and dismantled by police. One young indigenous woman was arrested and transported to jail inside a pitch-black box. In the aftermath of the raid, a ceremonial fire was extinguished, sacred objects were put in trash bags, and tipi poles were broken.
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act states that it is “the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religion of the American Indian…including…access to sites.”
Dorece Sam, President of the Native American Church of the State of Nevada:
“I take my grandkids to Peehee Mu’huh to teach them to pray for our unburied ancestors whose remains are scattered there, to collect our holy plants, to hunt and fish, and to collect medicinal herbs. The ancestors who were killed at Thacker Pass have never been given the proper prayers for their spirits. Lithium Nevada is desecrating our unceded lands and our ancestors’ resting places.”
Dean Barlese, respected elder and spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe:
“The Indian wars are continuing in 2023, right here. America and the corporations who control it should have finished off the ethnic genocide, because we’re still here. My great-great-grandfather fought for this land in the Snake War and we will continue to defend the sacred. Lithium Nevada is a greedy corporation telling green lies.”
“Our people couldn’t return to Thacker Pass for fear of being killed in 1865, and now in 2023 we can’t return or we’ll be arrested. Meanwhile, bulldozers are digging our ancestors graves up. This is what Indigenous peoples continue to endure. That’s why I stood in prayer with our elders leading the way.”
“Lithium Nevada is a greedy corporation on the wrong side of history when it comes to environmental racism and desecration of sacred sites. It’s ironic to me that I’m the trespasser because I want to see my ancestral land preserved.”
“Virtually every single accusation against us is a lie, and of course the corporation’s leaders know this. But our actions have scared them, so they are lashing out against classic nonviolent direct-action tactics. And this is yet another prime example of why we need to dismantle the structures of law that grant so many so-called constitutional ‘rights’ to business corporations, like access to the courts.”
Max Wilbert, Protect Thacker Pass:
“Around the world, a land defender is killed every two days. Murdering activists is hard to get away with in the United States, so corporations do this instead. This lawsuit is aimed at destroying the lives of people non-violently defending the land. But we’re not giving up. There are millions of people opposing this mine, and this fight will continue.”
“I’ve been involved in directly petitioning the courts for two years to enforce tribal rights to consultation without success. Now Paiutes and Shoshones are being sued for peacefully defending the final resting places of their massacred ancestors. Lithium Nevada is just another mining corporation bullying Native Americans once again. This pattern has got to stop.”
Lithium Nevada corporation has been locked in legal battles since 2021, when four environmental groups, a local rancher, and several tribes sued the Federal Government to attempt to overturn the permits for the mine. The suits allege failures of consultation, violation of endangered species law and water laws, and dozens of other infractions. The most recent filing in an ongoing Federal Court case brought by three local tribes was filed on Friday, arguing that Lithium Nevada needs to halt construction while it consults with tribes about the Thacker Pass massacre sites. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California will hear oral arguments in other cases later this month.
The news comes as Lithium Nevada’s parent corporation, Lithium Americas, has been implicated in four alleged human rights violations and environmental crimes related to their lithium mining operation in Cauchari-Oloroz, Argentina.
The defendants are seeking attorneys to join the legal defense team, and monetary donations to their legal defense fund. You can donate via credit or debit card, PayPal (please include a note that your donation is for Thacker Pass legal defense), or by check.