* As with all other articles on the Tomorrow’s Ancestors Speak video pages, this article is meant only as an accompaniment to the video message containing the speakers’ main ideas. This is the first video of a four-part mini-series we have created with Casey. Stay tuned on our Facebook page for announcements on releases of Parts 2, 3, and 4!

As Life would create it, the first time I heard Ponca Elder, Casey Camp-Horinek [Ponca name: Zhuthi] speak to the public was in my birth state of Nebraska – a state where I’d spent less then a week in since my departure some seventeen years back. Nebraska – from the Ponca word, ‘Ni’bthaska’ – ’Ni’ meaning ‘Water’, and ’bthaska’ meaning ‘flat’ – was the original home of Zhuthi’s people prior to their forced removal and relocation to Oklahoma in the 1800’s.  Zhuthi had returned to open a historical Treaty signing of an Alliance between Native Peoples against the KeystoneXL Pipeline – a pipeline that had been rejected during Obama’s era, and brought back to life by Trump’s error. I had returned to show solidarity, and to share the precious gift of this Indigenous Grandmother’s wisdom and beauty with you – and/or anyone else you may know who hasn’t yet personally encountered such a Being in their lives.

After traveling through the night, the Alliance’s morning’s gathering had come all too quick for our team. The feeling must have been shared by many present, as the coffee station remained continuously in good company.  As Zhuthi began to speak, however, her words abruptly awakened and seized the attention of all within. She exclaimed,

“Regardless of what the government tries to do, they can not separate Us; because we belong to each other. The Creator made Us that way.  Creator connected Us through Water, Air, Spirit, our Mother the Earth, and all the gifts She has given to Us that make our lives possible.”  

The truth, clarity, and beauty of her words rang strong then, and sustained their strength throughout the remainder of the day spent marching, singing, and praying in front of an old building where officials were meeting to discuss whether or not to approve the pipeline (they tragically chose approval). The building happened to be where I had numerous activities inside of throughout my childhood and teenage years, yet was now the space containing a few privileged people deciding the fates of so many Lives and Waters. As I witnessed Zhuthi afront of this nostalgic building, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be standing outside of the building. To be standing amongst courageous hearts resistant to the destructive hungers of bigotry and greed. With those who had not forgotten their interconnectedness with, nor responsibilities towards, All That Is.

My level of gratitude increased the following day when we were able to share personal time with Zhuthi before her departure back to Oklahoma.  An archetypal Grandmother to the fullest expression, she carried the ability to nourish the core of our Being with her incredible depths of Love, Compassion, and Wisdom. She reminded us of the simple and beautiful truths of Life – and of our responsibilities as Sacred expressions of that Life.  In creating this mini-series, we want to gift you a piece of precious time with this timeless Grandmother. There will be four videos within this mini-series, in addition to the brief article on Zhuthi’s background found below.

“Mother Earth’s rights are inherent. Any law that denies these fundamental rights is illegitimate and a violation of all the Natural Laws of Creation. We can preserve, protect, and fulfill our sacred duties to live with respect in this wonderful Creation. We have the power and responsibility for change.” – Zhuthi 

As the interview began, Zhuthi effortlessly answered the question that many find difficult past a few professional titles: “Who are you?” After raising herself tall in her seat, she shared, “I am a Mother; I am a Grandmother; I am a Great-Grandmother; I am a Daughter, a Sister, an Auntie; a Wife. I’m a product of Generations of Living In Tune with All That Is, and I’m also a product of the disruption in the late 1800’s…” And so Zhuthi went through all the forces of Nature and Life that have made her into the Being that she is. Yet she is still so much more. Zhuthi also serves as a Ponca Councilwoman, a drum keeper for the Women’s Society, an award-winning Actress, and a tireless voice for Native People, Mother Earth, the Waters, and all of whom whose voices are not currently being heard, nor understood. While she holds an important leadership position within her now Oklahoma-based tribe, Zhuthi feels that, it is her Tribe that leads her to where they need to go – and that her place is trying to open that path for them. Zhuthie has also founded environmental centers, worked within environmental organizations, and tirelessly fought against extractive corporations – including the one currently running oil through the DAPL pipeline. She travels across the Earth sharing her wisdom and encouraging Us all to do more towards co-creating a more just, loving, and healthy world. An opening expert at Quito, Ecuador’s, ‘Presentation of the Indigenous Environmental Network and Indigenous Peoples of Mother Earth and our Grandmothers – and Future Generations,’ Zhuthi reminded everyone of a simple, yet often unrecognized truth:

If you drank Water this morning, or liquids; if you ate of the rooted nations, or the four legged; if you breath; if your body became warm from the fires of the Earth, then you must recognize and understand that there is no separation between humans and Earth, and all the relatives of Earth and the Cosmos, because you live in relationship with her as a result of being one with her; and there is no separation… Mother Earth’s health, her nature, and that of our Indigenous Peoples are intertwined, inseparable. ” 

The courage and grace that Zhuthi carries did not arise from an easy journey amongst the Earth. Instead, her qualities arose from a long and difficult journey requiring constant faith, honesty, courage, compassion, and perseverance. The governments’ continuous attempts at separation personally began in Zhuthi’s family in the late 1800’s when her people were forcefully removed from their Native Lands in ‘Ni’bthaska,’ to join thirty-six other non-local tribes on Oklahoma reservations that Zhuthi acknowledges as, ‘P.O.W. (Prisoner of War) Camps.’  Her grandfather was only eight years old when their tribe was forced to leave Nebraska and walk 650 miles to new, unfamiliar land in Oklahoma. One in three died along the walk, and another one in three died after arriving in Oklahoma. Zhuthi’s mother, Jewel McDonnel, had a similar experience when she was only six years old. It was the end of August when everyone came together to celebrate the harvest, when B.I.A. (Bureau of Indian Affairs) officials came and kidnapped her and her cousins into the back of a car that stole them away to a boarding school some 200 miles away. In that school, their heads were scalded with kerosine on the first day in order to “clean away their perceived filth.” They had their hair cut off; they were punished for speaking Ponca; they were forced to wear uniforms. While recounting these cruelties, Zhuthi remembers her Mother saying, “they could do all this to Us, but they could not affect our minds and thoughts, we did what we had to to survive.”

By age fifteen, Zhuthi’s Mother was able to escape and return to her natural ways. She married Zhuthi’s father at nineteen, and the two began creating their family together, with Zhuthi being born the youngest of six. Zhuthi describes, “we went to white schools and excelled because we could. We never had new clothes, new shoes; never had enough to eat. We lived in labor camps. Whatever we did, we did so as a family.” Their family was also moved from the reservations to the cities, and through all of it, they always had their, “good minds, hearts, and Love for one another.” By Zhuthi’s late teens, the shift for civil rights and social and economic justice influenced Zhuthi and her siblings in a profound way. They were finally receiving a voice and an outlet for all that the Native Peoples were experiencing. By the time Zhuthi bore her first child, her elder brother Carter, an out-spoken activist, had come to live with her and her husband, “to teach them how to be parents.” Living with Carter through these transformative years seemed to seed Zhuthi’s passion for being a voice for others. Zhuthi patiently cultivated this passion, waiting into her more developed adult years to fully express – when she had the wisdom of experience built within her.

From there, Zhuthi’s incredible ability to share her heart and mind with others have influenced countless people both across the globe, and at home. At home, she has been the voice of a 600-800 people community that has been averaging about one death per week. There, she made the connection: “All of these are from cancers and from unknown autoimmune diseases that create these same things in our bodies that our Mother the Earth is feeling at this moment. We must respect our Mother so that we may all heal and thrive – together.”

Inextricably linked together, may We continue on with Zhuthi’s Mother’s prayer for the world over to have, “Have good minds, good hearts, and Love for one another.”

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