Earth Jurisprudence Update July 2021

Photo by Rob Symons

Earth-centred News and Inspiration

This newsletter is published by the team at the Gaia Foundation

Greetings Earth Jurisprudence Advocates and Allies,

Thomas Berry understood that as humans of the twenty-first century our ‘Great Work’ is to transition from human-centred to Earth-centred consciousness and culture – safeguarded over millennia by diverse Indigenous communities and ancient traditions across our living planet. This month’s update brings news of such efforts, from the decolonisation of governance systems to rights of Nature and ecocide initiatives and reflections on how we might restore the ‘Great Conversation’ between humans and the wider web of life. We wish you inspiration!

Warm wishes,

Carlotta and Matt, on behalf of the Gaia Team


Indigenous Governance

Creating Space for Indigenous Laws in Conservation
West Coast Environmental Law share an article detailing how a growing movement of Indigenous conservation initiatives in Canada is working to restore relationships and responsibilities between Indigenous peoples and their lands, grounded in Indigenous laws and knowledge systems that go back to the beginning of time. “Long before Canada was a country, Indigenous peoples lived under their own laws… [Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas] offer a pathway for the Crown to recognize and affirm Indigenous laws and governance. They provide opportunities to develop new institutions for reconciling Crown and Indigenous laws and decision-making in the establishment of new protected areas.”

Decolonising Governance and Reweaving the Basket of Life
The BBC have produced a brilliant 3-minute documentary sharing a story of hope. Gaia’s community partners in western Uganda have been reviving their Indigenous laws and practices and building resilience to climate change and biodiversity collapse. Earth Jurisprudence Practitioner Dennis Tabaro has accompanied Bagungu communities on their journey of revival and comments, “We are working…to revive their indigenous governance systems, connecting back with Nature, decolonising our minds, decolonising our education system, decolonising our farming system so that we can go to a new path of reweaving the basket of life.”

The White/Wiphala Paper on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems
This Paper published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is the result of collective work by indigenous and non-indigenous experts, scientists and researchers. “To date, the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit has not paid sufficient attention to the food and knowledge systems of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples challenge the Summit’s current conceptualisation of food systems, which is not representative of their realities, beliefs, livelihoods and food systems.”

Why Indigenous Knowledge Should be an Essential Part of How We Govern the World’s Oceans
Meg Parsons and Lara Taylor reflect on the revival of Indigenous marine governance in Oceania. “Indigenous knowledge, values and relationships with our ocean can make significant contributions to marine governance. We can learn from Indigenous worldviews that emphasise connectivity between all things.”

Latest Rights of Nature Developments

US: Rights of Nature Resolution Passed to Protect Boulder Creek and Watershed
Nederland has become the first community in Colorado to pass a resolution recognising the inherent rights of Boulder Creek and the Boulder Creek Watershed in the Rocky Mountains. The Town’s Board of Trustees also resolved to include the Rights of Nature as “a primary consideration in all Town actions and decisions that concern the Creek and Watershed” and to develop laws, policies and other measures to realise the rights recognised in the resolution. Nederland Trustee Alan Apt comments, “This Rights of Nature doesn’t have legal standing. … It’s a resolution that expresses a community value that we look at the big picture when we make decisions.”

Peru: Coalition Files Amicus Curiae Brief Calling for the Recognition of the Intrinsic Rights of the Marañón River
A coalition of international organisations has filed an amicus brief before the Celendín Court of Justice, requesting the recognition of the inherent rights of the Marañón River. “The Peruvian government is called to apply the Rights of Nature, including rejecting unnecessary dam projects that fragment ecosystems and have a negative impact on indigenous territory. Today our coalition presented a plan for Peru to enforce the rights of the Marañón River in a substantial and practical manner,” affirmed Constanza Prieto Figelist, Latin American Legal Director of Earth Law Center.

Northern Ireland: Two Councils Pass a Motion to Recognise the Rights of Nature
Derry City and Strabane District Council, closely followed by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, have become the first two councils in Northern Ireland to recognise the Rights of Nature.  Councillor Maeve O’Neill proposed the motion to Derry City and Strabane Council, noting that the “Rights of Nature is a revolutionary concept that is as old as our hills. It will restore a voice, through a rights based approach, to our rivers, hills, woodlands and habitats and species.” The Council will, over the next 6 months, collaborate with civic society and to investigate how Rights of Nature could be expressed in community plans, corporate plans and other strategic frameworks.


Ecocide: Top International Lawyers Unveil Definition
Last month, a global expert drafting panel of twelve highly acclaimed international criminal and environmental lawyers revealed their proposal for a fifth crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The draft law defines ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”. Dior Fall Sow, UN jurist and panel co-chair, commented “This is the beginning of a difficult but exhilarating adventure that should only end with the introduction into the Rome Statute of this fifth crime of ecocide. Let’s dare to do it!”


(Re)Imagining the World Through an Ecological Law Lens
Gabriel D’Astous and Larissa Parker explore “ecological law”: “it does not seek to amend environmental law, but it proposes a lens and principles that should underpin all areas of law. Central to ecological law is recognition of ecological primacy and ecological limits.” Principles include ecocentrism, respecting planetary boundaries, limiting material and energy consumption to respect ecological limits, restoring ecosystems, ensuring intergenerational, intragenerational and interspecies equity and upholding Indigenous rights and self-determination.

To Sue or Not to Sue (and Whom): That Is The Question Confronting India’s Glaciers
Julia Talbot-Jones and Erin O’Donnell examine the consequences of a 2017 ruling from the Uttarakhand High Court in India that the Himalayan glaciers, rivers, streams, lakes, air, meadows and forests have the same legal ‘rights as human beings’. “One way to begin to resolve the questions of the rights and responsibilities of natural entities is to ensure that legal rights granted to nature are given full force and effect. This requires investment in the institutional arrangements that support the new natural entities, including the appointment of adequately independent guardians, secure sources of funding, and improved governance arrangements”.

Interspecies Communication

Restoring the Great Conversation: Listening to Trees
Belden Lane shares the story of his three-decade-long relationship with an 100-year-old cottonwood tree called Grandfather. “Thomas Berry complained that we as humans have dropped out of the Great Conversation. We’ve lost our ability to converse with the rest of the natural world. He mourned that we talk only to ourselves. We’re not talking to the rivers; we aren’t listening to the wind or the stars. We’ve broken the Great Conversation.”

Webinar Round-Up

Listen to Honourable Justice Sir Joe Williams give a talk on  Decolonising the Law in Aotearoa in a lecture hosted by the University of Otago Faculty of Law. Learn about a campaign to protect the Rights of Pollinators in Colorado and tune into the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature’s latest listening circle on Human Rights and Rights of Nature.

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