‘Rights of Nature’ laws can strengthen Indigenous sovereignty, provide path to environmental justice

By Ray Levy Uyeda
February 22, 2022

U.S. federal judges will soon decide whether a lawsuit can proceed in the tribal court of White Earth Nation to decide if manoomin—or wild rice—is entitled to civil rights and if the nation itself is allowed to prevent the state of Minnesota from encroaching on those rights by approving operation for the Line 3 section of a transnational crude oil pipeline.

The lawsuit is the latest effort against Line 3 to protect tribal lands and could change the landscape of pipeline resistance, environmental law, and the sovereignty of treaties between Native nations and the federal government. As the time to mitigate climate change narrows, the efficacy of “Rights of Nature” cases could offer a blueprint of achieving climate justice. The legal battle rests on differing understandings of what rights nature is entitled to and what weight treaties, as the supreme law of the land, bear on holding the state of Minnesota to account.

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