First Tribal Nation to Advance Rights-Based Constitutional Framework to Protect Nature
MERCERSBURG, PA: On Saturday, the General Council of the Ho-Chunk Nation voted overwhelmingly – 86.9% in favor – to amend their tribal constitution to enshrine the Rights of Nature. The Ho-Chunk Nation is the first tribal nation in the United States to take this critical step. A vote of the full membership will follow.
The amendment establishes that “Ecosystems, natural communities, and species within the Ho-Chunk Nation territory possess inherent, fundamental, and inalienable rights to naturally exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve.” Further it prohibits frac sand mining, fossil fuel extraction, and genetic engineering as violations of the Rights of Nature.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), with its International Center for the Rights of Nature, assisted members of the Ho-Chunk Nation in drafting the amendment.
Rekumani (Bill Greendeer), a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Deer clan, proposed the amendment. He explained, “Everything here is sacred. We are all related. We are related to the trees, the birds, the animals, nature herself. We all have a right to exist and thrive. Mother Earth is a sacred soul, and has rights not to be exploited for someone’s profits.”
Mari Margil, CELDF’s Associate Director stated, “We are honored to assist the Ho-Chunk Nation to become the first tribal nation to advance the Rights of Nature into its constitution.”
Margil added, “With this vote, the Ho-Chunk Nation has taken a critical step to prohibit fossil fuel extraction as a violation of the Rights of Nature. This comes as the Ho-Chunk see their traditional living lands stripped of trees and plant life, driving away the deer and birds, in order to dig sand mines. Those sands will be shipped elsewhere for use in fracturing Mother Earth.”
Rights of Nature – CELDF
CELDF, and its International Center for the Rights of Nature, has assisted the first places in the world to secure the Rights of Nature in law – including in Ecuador’s Constitution and more than three dozen communities in the United States. Today, CELDF is working in Nepal, India, and other countries, as well as with tribal nations and indigenous peoples, to advance Rights of Nature laws. This includes work in Australia to secure legal rights of the Great Barrier Reef.
In a time of accelerating climate change, species extinction, and ecosystem collapse, it is increasingly understood that fulfilling a human right to a healthy environment is dependent on the health of the natural environment. Thus, the human right to a healthy environment can only be achieved if we place the highest protections on the natural environment – by recognizing in law the right of the environment itself to be healthy and thrive.
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Mari Margil, Associate Director