Campaign to Secure Legal Rights for the Great Lakes


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, 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

Juliee de la Terre, Director Sacred Water, Sacred Land Institute 608-632-2216

Visit Us: