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The Great Lakes, which contain 21% of the world’s fresh surface water, are under threat from contamination, invasive species, habitat destruction and more. ELC is working with community grassroots organizer Juliee de la Terre from Sacred Water, Sacred Land and local indigenous tribes to secure legal rights for this important ecosystem.

With a focus on defining and achieving aquatic health, legal rights for the Great Lakes also allows local communities and indigeous tribes to serve as guardians of nature to enforce its inherent rights.

Campaign to Secure Legal Rights for the Great Lakes

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There is a growing movement in the U.S. and worldwide to recognize and enforce fundamental rights for nature. Establishing legal rights for the Great Lakes would provide long-lasting protection for this unique, and important ecosystem. 

Legal Rights for Nature Background

  • Following in the footsteps of other rights-based movements, such as women’s suffrage and gay rights, comes a movement to recognize the rights of nature.
  • Whereas our current legal system treats nature as property, a nature’s rights paradigm ensures basic rights for ecosystems and species.
  • Indigenous peoples have always recognized the rights of nature, and the nature’s rights movement honors that perspective and creates tools to bring this paradigm into modern law.
  • In recent years, governments and judiciaries worldwide have finally started to integrate the rights of nature into our legal systems.

Recent Rights of Nature Victories

  • Worldwide, waterways such as the Whanganui River in New Zealand, Ganga (or "Ganges") and Yamuna Rivers in India, and Atrato River in Colombia have been recognized as legal entities possessing rights.
  • In the United States, some threedozen cities and towns have passed laws recognizing nature’s rights and, oftentimes, the related human right to a healthy environment.
  • In 2013, Earth Law Center (ELC) helped Santa Monica become the first West Coast city to pass such a law, which focused on sustainability.
  • Global bodies (e.g., the International Union for Conservation of Nature) have also joined the movement.

Rights for the Great Lakes

  • We are now building support for a campaign to recognize and implement legal rights for the Great Lakes, with a focus on defining and achieving aquatic “health.”
  • The Great Lakes, which contain about 21% of the world’s fresh surface water, are under threat from contamination, invasive species, habitat destruction, and more.
  • A legal right to health for the Great Lakes could be implemented through specific metrics and timelines for these metrics to be achieved.
  • A law establishing rights for the Great Lakes would also allow citizens to serve as guardians of nature and enforce its inherent rights.

Contact Us:

Grant Wilson, Directing Attorney, Earth Law Center 510-566-1063 gwilson@earthlaw.org

Juliee de la Terre, Director Sacred Water, Sacred Land Institute 608-632-2216 julieedelaterre@gmail.com

Visit Us:  www.earthlawcenter.org  www.sacredwatersacredland.wordpress.com