Research

In 2016, the General Council of the Ho-Chunk Nation (Hoocąk) became the first tribal nation in the United States to successfully amend their tribal constitution to include what is referred to as ‘the Rights of Nature’. These rights recognize environmental entities and ecosystems as independent beings that have the right to exist and thrive.

 It also embedded traditional Hoocąk conservation into their constitution.

Only very recently have attempts been made to understand Indigenous concepts of nature and incorporate them into political and legal debates. For example, in 2017, after 140 years of negotiations, the Māori of New Zealand secured from the government the acknowledgment that the river Te Awa Tupua is a person. This means it has the legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities of a person. For the Māori, this river, like so many other non-human entities in nature, has its own identity, and it has been respected and acknowledged in ceremonies for centuries. Now a nation’s government, operating mainly through Western values and worldviews, officially accepted another way of understanding the world. In short, Te Awa Tupua has been re-indigenized. While Te Awa Tupua serves as one example of a government acknowledging the personhood of a river, there are other cases such as the Magpie River in Québec, and the Klamath River in Northern California, where local authorities have recognized their personhood. In 2008 Ecuador took steps in this direction by recognizing the rights of nature in its constitution. However, throughout history, the worldviews and ecological knowledge of Indigenous people have been pushed aside in nature preservation and conservation. This is true, especially in national parks, which also often are comprised of traditional Indigenous lands. However, collaboration between national park rangers and federal agencies with local tribes is increasing, and with climate change, Indigenous ecological knowledge is being applied in matters concerning nature conservation. Our project investigates various forms of collaboration through the theoretical concept of re-indigenization.