Colorado college speaker advocates 'legal rights' for Mother Earth

A Colorado college hosted a Native American activist Wednesday to discuss the idea that nature and “Mother Earth” should be given rights, allowing the Earth to also be given legal protection.

Fort Lewis College’s Pi Sigma Alpha chapter invited Tom B.K. Goldtooth to talk about environmentalism and social justice. 

Pi Sigma Alpha is FLC’s political science club and is also the “national political science honor society,” according to its site. As a club and organization, Pi Sigma Alpha is prohibited from sponsoring any type of partisan event, according to its policy guidelines.

Goldtooth is a well-known “environmental justice and indigenous rights activist,” an email sent by FLC’s political science department to students and obtained by Campus Reform said. “Mr. Goldtooth will give a talk on ‘Earth Jurisprudence,’ a legal philosophy premised on the belief that nature and Mother Earth have legal rights which demand protection,” the email continues.

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Goldtooth is also the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, its website states. IEN’s goal is to “educate and empower” Native Americans to become activists for the environment. The organization helps them lobby for the protection of “all life forms -- the Circle of Life” and also focuses on issues that concern indigenous peoples and their communities all across North America and beyond.

Dr. Ruth Alminas, a faculty adviser of Pi Sigma Alpha and assistant professor of Political Science, told Campus Reform that the talk focuses on the idea of giving the Earth legal representation, which in turn allows people to sue on behalf of Mother Earth. This concept is known as “Earth Jurisprudence,” according to Alminas, which is “a philosophy of law rooted in a recognition of the rights of nature and of Mother Earth.”

According to The Rights of Nature, a site dedicated to giving the Earth legal representation, Earth Jurisprudence advocates for laws which would make certain actions “illegitimate and ‘unlawful,’” thereby permitting prosecution of actions which infringe on the Earth’s rights.

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Zane Goodell, president of Fort Libertarians, FLC’s Libertarian club, condemned the idea of giving the Earth full legal rights, saying that the concept seems pretty illogical.

“Declaring that nature has the same rights as a person doesn’t make much sense in my mind,” he told Campus Reform

Goodell was also concerned with how exactly legal reparations would work, noting that “the idea brings up many other questions as to who sues on nature’s behalf and who accepts money on nature’s behalf because nature can’t accept it.”

The Fort Libertarians president additionally found the idea of people representing the Earth legally to be unnecessary, saying “we wouldn’t need to declare nature as a person and just sue the parties that are responsible” when it comes to specific environmental impacts on nature.

“I think this may just be a niche perspective given that it’s a Native American man presenting the perspective and they have a long history of mysticism with the earth,” Goodell told Campus Reform. “If the idea gains enough traction, then people would be more than happy to jump on the idea because the idea is environmentalist and invented by a Native American.”

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