Milwaukee County passed a resolution granting nature equal rights to mankind — the first move of its kind in the state.
The “Rights of Nature” resolution passed on Friday, issuing specific protections for bodies of water in the county. The resolution originated from a greater indigenous-led movement to ensure that nature has the same legal protections as humans. Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said that the resolution was a means to both honor indigenous beliefs about nature and to more effectively execute conservation efforts.
“This effort recognizes the legal rights of natural areas & waterways to exist & thrive without interference from human activity,” said Crowley. “It’s important for us to appreciate the outdoor environment that Milwaukee County resides on and acknowledge the Indigenous people whose deep relationships with these lands pre-date our own.”
This effort recognizes the legal rights of natural areas & waterways to exist & thrive without interference from human activity. pic.twitter.com/2HDagqMAWa
— David C. Crowley (@DavidCrowleyWI) October 27, 2023
The county struck draft language from the resolution acknowledging the indigenous “rights of nature” perspective as “symbolic in nature,” thereby rendering it to be factual.
“Milwaukee County recognizes the ‘rights of nature,’ which was initially enacted by the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, as a sacred idea and policy to protect Southeastern Wisconsin’s waterways and bodies of water from human harm,” stated the resolution.
The greater “rights of nature” movement believes that all of nature have the same rights as humans. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) — established in 2012 at the behest of the United Nations — describes the rights of nature as a means to achieve environmental protections by affording ecosystems the same legal protections as people and corporations. IPBES considers the rights of nature, or “RoN,” to be one of their public policy instruments.
The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin originally enacted the “rights of nature” in a January 2020 resolution, which Milwaukee County cited as a model for this latest resolution. The tribe declared that its resolution was enacted to thwart a proposed open-pit metallic sulfide mine, the Back Forty Mine.
“[T]he tribe recognizes that environmental laws which regulate the use and exploitation of nature are incapable of protecting the Menominee River and Mother Earth,” states the resolution. “[T]he tribe recognizes to protect the Menominee River, it must secure the highest protections for the river through the recognition of the river’s inherent and legal rights.”
The tribe declared that the river had a right to naturally exist, flourish, regenerate, evolve; the rights of restoration, recovery, and preservation; the right to abundant, pure, clean, and unpolluted water; the right to natural groundwater recharge and surface water recharge; the right to a healthy natural environment and natural biodiversity; the right to natural water flow; the right to carry out natural ecosystem functions; the right to be free of activities or practices, as well as obstructions, that interfere with or infringe upon these rights.
Additionally, the tribal resolution declared the Menominee River as the literal “origin of life” for the Menominee people. The tribe believes that the first Menominee human was originally a bear, a creature which the tribe believes to be supernatural in its nature.
“It is there that the Creator transformed the bear, a supernatural being who came from below the ground, into the [first] Menominee human being,” states the tribal government’s website.