On October 16, 2023 CELDF hosted the very first Truth, Reckoning, and Right Relationship for the Great Lakes at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Set on the shoreline of Lake Erie, over 70 invited guests were witness to Part 1: Truth and Reckoning of a two-part experience, which will culminate in April 2024 with Right Relationship with the Great Lakes.

For over two decades, CELDF has been attempting to shift culture and laws by educating residents of communities on how the system isn’t broken, but set up to protect corporations and their profit-making over all else. In partnership with CELDF, these communities tried using the legal system and the courts to enforce new community rights laws to protect things like the rights of nature and the people’s right of local self-governance as a direct means to stop corporate harms. Those efforts of resilience and resistance contained the kinds of kernels of possibility that would lead to a paradigm shift in the law and a cultural shift in people’s thinking about nature. But despite the daily pressures and the destructive toll the system continues to inflict, the needed revolutionary spark for that paradigm shift has yet to ignite. The question that nags us is, what will it take? 

Image created by Andrea Bowers

And then a new spark flared up. In 2019, CELDF received an email from Los Angeles-based artist, Andrea Bowers. She had read an article about the Lake Erie Bill of Rights and wanted to discuss collaborating with us on an art exhibit on Lake Erie and Rights of Nature to be displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (moCa Cleveland). At first we were skeptical. We are a public interest law firm …what does art have to do with law? Maybe the time had come to expand the kinds of community engagement necessary to not only spark the needed paradigm shift but to keep the flame lit for as long as it takes. 

This began many conversations that would eventually lead to the Truth, Reckoning & Right Relationship with the Great Lakes Ecosystem project. 

Today most of the environmental discussions, actions, and legal actions are centered on stopping a single project, activity, or harm. For example, electric car manufacturing will bring jobs and will reduce carbon emissions, but what is the impact on communities and nature where the mining for the needed rare Earth minerals are extracted? How do we grapple with doing what might be better for humans while not considering the full impact on nature?

In order to answer how to grapple with these big issues, we first have to be truthful about our culture, our system, and our roles. The mid-October event included testimony given by 15 individuals from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan in front of many witnesses.

Water Ceremony led by Sundance, AIM Cleveland, and Leon Briggs, Tonawanda Seneca Nation

The event was not about assigning blame but rather about having the courage to acknowledge how this current culture we have been born into impacts both nature and future generations in both some positive ways, but also in many negative ways.

Those in attendance heard powerful testimony from University Professor Dr. Dave Riley, Award-winning journalist Valerie Vande Panne, American Indian Movement-Cleveland Executive Director, Sundance, Sister of Charity, Carol DeAngelo, Kirk Scirto, MD, MPH, Scientist and former EPA contractor, Susan Vonderhaar, Lawyer and author, Will Falk, Executive Director of moCa Cleveland, Megan Reich, Grant Township Supervisor, Stacy Long, GARN N American Hub facilitator, Caitlyn Sutherin, along with Community members Sherry Fleming from Williams County, Ohio and Paul Winnie of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation. Also representing the youth perspective, were Reed Singer, student at Ohio University and Olivia Sheldon and Jessica Bisbee from Niagara University. 

As we plan Part 2 – Right Relationship, CELDF will be publishing and posting more details about Part 1, about Andrea Bowers and her culture-shifting art, and also about the goals and possible outcomes that can be utilized in the community where you live.  Stay tuned!

Reckoning with the truth to get in right relationship with the Great Lakes

Additional Resources