First Tribal Nation to Advance the Rights of Nature


Stacey Schmader
Administrative Director


MERCERSBURG, PA:  On Saturday, the General Council of the Ho-Chunk Nation voted overwhelmingly 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 and natural communities within the Ho-Chunk territory possess an inherent, fundamental, and inalienable right to exist and thrive.”  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) assisted members of the Ho-Chunk Nation to draft the amendment.

Bill Greendeer, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Deer clan, proposed the amendment.  He explained, “Passing the Rights of Nature amendment will help us protect our land.”

A CELDF representative stated, “We are honored to assist the Ho-Chunk Nation to become the first tribal nation to enshrine the Rights of Nature in its constitution.”

They 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 stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, recognizing the inherently destructive impact of fossil fuel extraction and development.”

CELDF will be meeting with members of the Ho-Chunk Nation and members of other tribal nations in Wisconsin at the Traditional Ecological Knowledge conference to discuss Rights of Nature.  The conference is being held in La Crosse, Wisconsin, at Viterbo University on October 14.

Rights of Nature – CELDF

CELDF has assisted the first communities in the U.S. to enact Rights of Nature laws, with more than three dozen now in place. In addition, CELDF assisted Ecuador to draft provisions for its constitution, making it the first country in the world to enshrine the Rights of Nature in its constitution.  Today CELDF is partnering with indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, communities, and civil society in the U.S. and abroad to advance Rights of Nature legal frameworks, including in India where a law to establish rights of the Ganges River is being proposed to Prime Minister Modi’s administration.

In a time of accelerated 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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Photo: Mike Schaffner, White Buffalo, Flickr Creative Commons

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