March 22, 2022 –
We are talking about human rights and animal rights – what about the rights of nature itself? The right to dirt, even the right to personality. Many countries and cities have guaranteed rights to their waterways and lands.
NCPR has caught up with three organizers of tonight’s North Country Rights of Nature Symposium: Blake Lavia and Tzintzun Aguilar-Izzo, who are leading an art and storytelling project called Talking Wings, and Amanda Barreto, who graduated from St. Lawrence University.
This interview was slightly edited for clarity.
MONICA SANDRECZKI: What are the rights of nature? I think it’s a term many haven’t heard yet.
TZINTZUN AGUILAR-IZZO: This can be traced back to two different, opposing paradigms, worldviews. In one, nature is a mere commodity, something that can be exploited that has no right, has no place in court, but is a mere object to be consumed. In the other, nature is an actual living being or entity that we all come in contact with on some level. We are also living beings in this world; we are all organisms. In this other view, nature itself may also have a right to personality before the court. This vision, of course, goes back thousands of years, to different nations and cultures around the world, specifically on this continent. But before that, nations living in an area called Turtle Island, also known by some communities as North America, believed that nature was something that was an essential part of their community, and that “natural rights” somehow stemmed from that perspective.
BARRETO AMANDA: “Nature rights” also mean recognizing that rivers and waterways are inherently valuable, separate from their value or benefit to people. It is a tool that allows communities and guardians to effectively ensure that rivers or waterways have the right to free movement and have clean water outside of human use, such as drinking water; to the rivers [themselves]they have the right to walk their own path, to be clean and to develop.
The North Country Rights of Nature Symposium starts tonight at 6:30 pm on Zoomon – register here!
SANDRECZKI: Part of the purpose of the symposium is to explore the process of creating a legal declaration for the St. Lawrence River Basin. What might this look like?
AGULIAR-IZZO: In this area? We do not know yet. That is why we are organizing the Symposium on the Rights of Nature, because all change stems from the conversation; all change stems from communities coming together to intertwine the tapestry of sustainable transformative change.
However, if we take a disclaimer that has been written around the world, certain elements need to be included. There have always been different wordings that recognize nature or natural objects such as rivers, trees, species such as salmon as innate rights, other status rights, or legal personality in courts.
Then there’s the section that usually prescribes what these rights should look like: if a river has the right to free flow, to regenerate, that all its ecosystems must be respected.
The next step would be the concept of who can stand trial and protect the rivers of which community members, be it a specific body whose sole purpose is to enforce such cases, whether anyone can bring a right. for nature, the question is: who can stand up for nature? And then how is this enforced?
SANDRECZKI: Yes, I wanted to raise the issue of implementation. Rivers do not obey borders, I think the international interests of the St. Lawrence River in particular. He plays a lot.
AGUILAR-IZZO: I couldn’t agree with you better. Lots of games. This is an extremely complex dynamic. This may look different if you are in tribal court, if in the state, the county, it all depends on those specific government agencies.
But what’s more, we’re trying to change the narrative. It’s not just about the laws in the books, it’s also about trying to enforce the normative impact of a slowly changing culture. This is probably the stronger thing than the laws themselves. This changes the discourse to take natural rights into account at a cultural, global level.
BLAKE LAVIA: Speaking of natural rights lawyers, the ideal way to enforce natural rights, especially here where there are so many rivers through so many cities, is to form coalitions, so if there are many cities beyond the river and even the counties say that do it they want to enforce the rights of nature. Furthermore, if we all align ourselves and unite with the Akwesasne community, and they themselves pass laws on their own, we will create a truly strong bond, a chain that will have more chances than just the city of Potsdam or the canton would decide to pass.
When it comes to any movement, or the protection of nature, numbers usually matter: the communities that want their nature to be safe are protected for their own well-being. That’s when we all make a difference. This is the main reason for this symposium: to talk and unite on these vast strips of land and water and protect our environment.