Where the 2024 presidential candidates stand on Indigenous issues
WASHINGTON — Marianne Williamson, a 2020 presidential hopeful, promised before an auditorium of Indigenous leaders, elders and voters that under her administration the White House would formally apologize and atone for the horrific treatment of Native Americans by the federal government, alluding to genocidal policies enacted by the United States.
In 2019, Williamson was one of 11 presidential candidates who attended the historic Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City.
Williamson is one of three Democratic candidates running for president of the United States in 2024. She’s also in the race against incumbent President Joe Biden and Cenk Uygur, co-founder and host of The Young Turks, a progressive news program.
“Biden’s done some good things in Indian Country, but not everybody’s happy with everything,” said Mike Stopp, a Republican political consultant. “Even Deb Haaland, who I like, even though we disagree on a lot of policies, has irritated a lot of people in Indian Country. Just because you are Native doesn’t mean you’re going to do what everybody wants all the time. We’re very diverse.”
The 2024 presidential election also has two Independent candidates, political activist Cornel West, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late Robert F. Kennedy and an environmental attorney.
There are 9 Republican candidates:
- Former president Donald J. Trump
- Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
- Biotech investor and newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy
- Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
- Megachurch pastor and businessman Ryan Binkley
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
- Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
- North Dakota Gov. Doug Bergum
- South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott
Most of the presidential candidates mention nothing publicly about what their policies are for tribal nations, leaving voters to speculate what it could be from past legislations, social media posts, comments and speeches. ICT has created a database of presidential candidates that includes information specific to tribal nations. The database gives users a brief overview of each candidate and their engagement with tribal nations.
The presidential race is stacked this election but the two frontrunners are, obviously, Biden and Trump.
“I see Trump/Biden 2.0 in 2024, and I don’t think that makes anybody happy, but I think that’s where we are. I think what we’re going to see is a lot of Democrats turn out because they’re anti-Trump and they’re not super excited about Biden either, but he’s the president and the candidate,” Stopp said. “You’re going to see a lot of Republicans, quite a few of them were very pro-Trump, but a lot of ’em are really anti-Biden that are coming out. They would like to see someone more practical than Donald Trump.”
Current polling shows Biden leading with more than 60 percent. Williamson at around 5 percent and before Kennedy changed parties he hovered around 15 percent in the Democratic primary.
“I do believe that President Joe Biden is going to go down in history as one of the most supportive advocates for tribal sovereignty that we’ve seen in a U.S. president,” Angelique EagleWoman, a scholar of Indigenous law and policy. “I say that because of his ability to see the grassroots support for appointing the first Native person as the US Secretary of the Interior. So by appointing Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland, who’s Laguna Pueblo, into that role, he set a standard that we haven’t seen at that level for a U.S. president.”
Trump is dominating the packed Republican primary. He stays around 60 percent in the polls with DeSantis, Haley and Ramaswamay trailing behind.
“Now, when it comes to Indian policy, Donald Trump actually had some decent advisors when he did it,” Stopp said. “I was one of them. There were a few others that I worked with in making sure that federal Indian policy didn’t take a step back.”
Another was Tyler Fish, Cherokee, who was a White House senior policy advisor and tribal liaison during the Trump administration. Texas federal judge Ada Brown, Choctaw, was nominated by Trump. She became the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge. On her father’s side she is a descendant of the Muscogee Creek Freedmen.
Trump signed the CARES Act that allocated $8 billion in funding for tribal governments and an additional $2 billion for the Indian Health Service. Many nations used this funding to provide direct support for their citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeSantis started off as a strong contender against Trump but his polling has since lagged. He stays around 15 percent.
“I don’t see any standout on the Republican side that has a knowledge basis or the ability to embrace tribal nations, our issues and our sovereignty,” EagleWoman said.
DeSantis supported the Seminole Tribe of Florida on the road to having a monopoly on sports betting in the state. The Seminole Tribe donated millions to DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaigns. Unfortunately, the tribal gaming compact has been caught up in legal challenges and will likely head to the Supreme Court for review.
“We see in Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida, the absolute elimination of Native Americans in history or understanding the role of Euro-Americans in causing harm,” EagleWoman said. “A great nation should be able to understand its mistakes and its faults to do better.”
Trump stopped hosting the White House Tribal Nations Summit, rarely did meaningful consultation with tribal leaders, released budget requests that cut funding for IHS and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and supported energy projects that were incredibly unpopular in tribal nations.
“We have the former U.S. President Donald Trump who before entering politics opposed tribal casinos and tribal gaming and tribal business development,” EagleWoman said. “During his administration, he tried to rescind a reservation for the Wampanoag. He put on hold the ability of Alaska Native villages, as tribal governments, to take land into trust. He mocked tribal historical figures. He refused to engage in consultation. So, there’s just not many pluses I can find for that former administration.”
Recently, former Vice President Mike Pence was the first high-profile candidate to drop out of the race, saying it was clear that it wasn’t his time. Others that have dropped out are Miami mayor Francis Suarez, former Cranston, R.I. mayor Steve Laffey, and former Texas congressman Will Hurd.
A Republican candidate with lots of experience with tribal nations is North Dakota Gov. Doug Bergum. The state has five federally-recognized tribes, these include the Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes), Spirit Lake Nation, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation.
“Doug actually has had very good relations with tribes,” Stopp said. “Actually, a good friend of mine who used to be the staff director for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs actually is advising on his campaign because he worked for him as governor and in the Indian Affairs office.”
In May, with the support of Bergum, North Dakota codified the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into state law as the Supreme Court wrangled with the constitutionality of the act. He displayed tribal flags at the state Capitol; doubled Native American scholarships to $1 million; signed legislation that would bring IT and cybersecurity to tribal schools and colleges; and went into oil tax revenue-sharing compacts with the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.
“I do think he is probably the most pro-tribal, pro-Indian candidate in the Republican mix right now,” Stopp said. “Unfortunately, I don’t see him getting very far. I actually find him to be a very practical person, and in today’s environment, practicality loses to sensationalism.”
The difference between the top two contenders is stark when it comes to tribal nations. The Biden administration has poured unprecedented amounts of funding into tribal governments, appointed more Native Americans to key roles than any other administration, continues to do meaningful consultation, hosted the first-ever Native American Heritage Month reception at the White House, and nominated an Indigenous woman to be a federal judge.
Biden also selected the first Native American person to ever be part of the president’s cabinet, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the first Native American U.S. Treasurer, Chief Lynn Malerba, Mohegan.
Last year, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both made speeches at the White House Tribal Nations Summit. Around half of the cabinet members were walking around during the summit talking with tribal leaders.
Any candidate would have a difficult time matching Biden’s commitment to tribal nations.
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Crops and solar intersect as Iowa’s first agrivoltaics project prepares to power up
AMES — On Thursday’s chilly fall morning, the Alliant Energy Solar Farm at Iowa State University looked like any other solar farm. Thousands of panels stretched toward the heavens and fanned across the landscape, welcoming any rays of sun that might escape the overcast sky above.
But it’s not your typical solar array.
Come next year, the ground underneath and around the panels will bloom with fruits, vegetables and pollinator plants. The practice is called agrivoltaics: where active farming or ranching and solar happen in the same place instead of separately.
It puts the “farm” in solar farm.
The Alliant Energy Solar Farm at ISU, unveiled Thursday morning in Ames, marks the first utility-scale agrivoltaics project in Iowa and the Midwest at large.
The 10-acre solar farm has a maximum energy output of 1.35 megawatts — enough to power around 200 homes at full capacity. As Alliant’s panels transform sunlight into electricity, ISU researchers will grow and harvest crops underneath.
It took millions of dollars and dozens of experts to make the project a reality. Collaborations span several industries, from energy production to horticulture to entomology. The site will be home to a treasure trove of research that, researchers hope, can show if agriculture and solar energy can coexist in Iowa and beyond.
“There are a lot of communities who are thinking about community solar arrays,” said Anne Kimber, director of ISU’s Electric Power Research Center. “Well, imagine if the community also gets to have gardens associated with those arrays. You’re starting to build community around that. I think that’s worth working on.”
How it came to be
The project has been in the works for years — but it was first conceptualized as just a solar project, a partnership announced in fall 2021. The plan shifted when an agrivoltaics grant opportunity from the U.S. Department of Energy opened up.
Both ISU and Alliant serve rural residents across the state, said Nick Peterson, Alliant’s strategic partnerships manager. Integrating agriculture into the project could better serve their customers and missions. It could also provide a first-of-its-kind research opportunity in Iowa. And, thanks to the diverse skill sets across both institutions, they had the capacity to dive into this emerging practice.
So, they shifted their plans and applied. The project received a $1.8 million four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy — the largest allotment awarded from the funding program.
Alliant and ISU worked together to design the research project. Solar panel heights vary between 5 feet — the industry standard — and 8 feet. Those differences change how much light will reach the plants grown underneath. That will alter the microclimates under the panels, influencing factors like humidity and temperature.
The panels themselves differ as well. Some are in fixed positions, meaning their angle doesn’t change. Others rotate to track the sun across the sky. All of them are bifacial, meaning they can harvest solar energy on both sides.
Then came the horticultural decisions: What should be planted underneath?
Researchers considered high-value and popular crops that could fit under solar panels. They chose broccoli, summer squash and peppers for vegetables. For fruits, they landed on strawberries and raspberries. The harvested crops will go to the ISU Horticulture Research Station, where they will be cleaned, packaged and sold to the university’s dining halls.
Three of the five crops require bee pollination to grow. To ensure the survival of the plants, the team is adding pollinator plant mixes to the site and raising honeybees. Entomologists also track how the bees interact with the on-site foraging habitat. They’ll also harvest honey produced in the on-site bee boxes that house the colonies.
“If we don’t keep honeybees at the site, we can’t guarantee that bees will be there to pollinate the plants,” said Matt O’Neal, an ISU professor in plant pathology, entomology and microbiology. “As we produce the vegetation and we allow it to grow, we hope to see how this site could be improved and eventually become the kind of place that beekeepers would want to keep their hives.”
The facility marks Alliant’s first customer-hosted solar project to complete construction in Iowa. It will cost the utility $4.2 million — much of which was gleaned from existing customer rates, Peterson said.
The extra money needed to transform it into an agrivoltaics project came from investors, not Alliant customers. The utility owns and operates the facility and leases the land from ISU.
All $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy will support ISU’s research on the site. The funding will support farming costs, labor costs, outreach and education, and more.
“It’s a win-win for both entities,” Peterson said. “This is a big deal for us that we’re getting this done.”
Research in action
The site wrapped on construction this month. The first batch of plants — raspberries — will be planted within the next month and go dormant in the winter. The panels will be fully operational in early 2024. Come spring, the grounds should be teeming with budding crops.
The U.S. Department of Energy funding should support ISU’s research through three growing seasons. Over those years, researchers will be analyzing every aspect of the crops and the solar production.
One variable they’re looking at is crop yield: Will the shade from the panels reduce or increase the yields of the fruits and veggies planted underneath? Will there be more or less disease or pests? Will harvest periods change?
ISU graduate students, undergraduate students and technicians will manage the crops and track their growth. Sensors will collect data on the environmental conditions beneath the panels. This data will be compared to on-site crops grown in direct sunlight without any panels overhead — the control group.
Teams also will be keeping an eye on energy production. The vegetation underneath the panels may cool the technology, helping it produce energy more efficiently.
Researchers will track the costs and revenues associated with growing food and beekeeping within an agrivoltaics system. Those budgets can help guide decisions for farmers and solar developers who may try their hand at agrivoltaics.
Underrepresented farming groups, like refugee and Indigenous communities, also will have the opportunity to grow crops in the space around the arrays.
“Land costs and implement costs are some of the biggest barriers to entry into the ag industry,” Peterson said. “This (project) could offer opportunities to break down barriers to access for people who want to get into the ag industry.”
Bridging the divide
You likely see parts of the energy grid every day, like power lines and transmission lines. As renewable energy grows more popular, it places more energy generation — like wind turbines and solar arrays — closer to communities. Nearby residents aren’t always happy about that.
The energy world has to figure out how to make green energy projects more attractive to communities. Agrivoltaics could be the way to go, those in the industry think.
As the project commences, researchers will be surveying a variety of stakeholders about the concept of agrivoltaics, from beginning farmers to refugee farmers. They hope to uncover the factors that drive perceptions about solar — like costs and land use, for example.
“At this stage, solar can stand on its own to actually be a viable, (economically competitive) part of our energy supply,” said Hongli Feng, an ISU assistant professor of economics. “The thing is, will it actually be implemented?”
Team members contributing to the Alliant Energy Solar Farm at Iowa State University see the project as an opportunity to better educate the public about solar energy and the feasibility of agrivoltaics. Producers, policymakers, solar developers and the public at large will be invited to visit the site on field days to see the process for themselves.
“A big test area for this grant is also the demonstration and extension outreach aspects, where we want the growers to come check out the plots, evaluate the crops and ask themselves, ‘What’s the feasibility of such a system?’” said Ajay Nair, an ISU associate professor of horticulture. “This is unbiased research. We will report what we find, and people can decide whether this is a system that is feasible or not.”
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Despite Supreme Court ruling, ICWA challenges remain
The nation’s highest court recently upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act in a major case over the law’s constitutionality, a decision hailed by many as a victory for Indigenous children and their families.
But while the 7-2 majority decision in the Brackeen v. Haaland case firmly rejected key arguments against the law known as ICWA, state-level challenges have been moving through lower courts across the country, with varying degrees of success.
Cases in Nebraska, Alaska, Iowa, Montana and Oklahoma center on different legal issues than those decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last month. Plaintiffs in Brackeen v. Haaland — a group of states along with white adoptive parents seeking custody of Native children — argued unsuccessfully that ICWA was unconstitutional because it exceeds the “plenary powers” of Congress to pass legislation governing tribal affairs, “commandeers” states to follow federal law and violates equal protection guarantees.
Yet while the Supreme Court upheld ICWA’s constitutionality for now, legal experts who are both supporters and critics of the 45-year-old federal law say the Brackeen case doesn’t rule out future challenges to tribal sovereignty.
What’s more, justices declined to delve into the equal protection arguments in the case, stating only that the plaintiffs “lack standing” on that issue because the adoptions of Indigenous children they sought had been finalized. Some court watchers say that leaves open the possibility of future lawsuits on equal protection issues.
The 1978 law in question seeks to repair damage caused by centuries of forced attendance at Indian boarding schools and coercive adoptions into white, Christian homes. That legacy has endured in Indian Country, where the rate of foster care removals remains far higher than in other racial and ethnic communities.
Under ICWA, state child welfare agencies must determine whether a child facing foster care, adoption or guardianship is a member of a Native American tribe. If they are an enrolled member or have a parent who is enrolled and are eligible for tribal membership, the case takes a different pathway than for other children. Tribes must be offered the opportunity to take jurisdiction from the state court; tribal members and Indigenous foster parents and kin must be prioritized for placements; and social service agencies must make “active” rather than “reasonable” efforts to help parents accused of maltreatment reunite with their children.
Kate Fort, director of the Indian Law Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law, outlined the most common reasons for an ICWA appeal in the March edition of the Juvenile and Family Court Journal.
She wrote that between 2017 and 2022, more than 40 percent of all such cases were remanded — sent back to lower courts — or reversed. Plaintiffs in 87 percent of the ICWA-based appeals were biological parents of an Indigenous child. About half the cases were appealed based on parents’ belief that the court improperly determined ICWA’s application to their child’s case.
“These data indicate that agencies and courts are still struggling with the first step in an ICWA case — whether they have an ICWA case at all,” Fort wrote in the paper.
Two ICWA-related cases were decided by the Alaska Supreme Court in July 2022.
They involved the federal law’s provision requiring that a “qualified expert witness” testify about the Indigenous child’s tribe, customs and traditions before their parent’s rights can be terminated. Those challenges did not prevail.
Recent disputes over ICWA in state courts center on tribal jurisdiction, the definition of a Native child, and termination of parental rights, among other issues. The following is a summary of some recent cases:
Tribal court jurisdiction in child welfare cases lost ground in an April ruling in Oklahoma. In the decision — involving a child identified as S.J.W. — the state Supreme Court gave lower courts increased ability to grant custody of Native children living on a reservation that is not their own.
S.J.W.’s parents argued that “the Chickasaw tribal court has exclusive jurisdiction regardless of the fact that S.J.W. is a nonmember Indian child,” according to court documents. The state maintained it had shared jurisdiction on cases involving ICWA.
Critics call the ruling involving a Muscogee child living on Chickasaw Nation’s reservation deeply flawed.
The state Supreme Court “misunderstands tribal sovereignty,” the Choctaw Nation’s senior executive officer of legal and compliance Brian Danker told a National Public Radio affiliate. “This ruling could impact a tribe’s ability to protect tribal citizens’ social, cultural and familial connections as it attempts to chip away at the foundations of tribal sovereignty in the state of Oklahoma.”
Fort described the Oklahoma ICWA case as unique, and a “truly unfortunate opinion with absurdly weak analysis.” Fort said tribes’ ability to retain jurisdiction over child welfare cases remains an ongoing fight in multiple states.
Iowa and Nebraska
In another suit filed this past April by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the Supreme Court in Nebraska denied the tribe’s request to intervene, because it had previously been determined the child in question did not meet the criteria of an “Indian child.” The child’s mother was eligible for tribal enrollment, but was not yet enrolled.
The tribe argued the spirit of ICWA should apply to the case, but the state of Nebraska opposed that position, and was victorious in court. Ultimately, the state’s highest court ruled that ICWA’s specific requirements to determine a child’s eligibility for its protections should be strictly applied.
In April 2022, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a juvenile court’s ruling that denied a child ICWA protections, affirming a prior decision to terminate the rights of the child’s parent. The juvenile court found the state’s “reasonable efforts” to avoid out-of-home placement — instead of the “active efforts” required for tribal members under ICWA — were adequate because the child was deemed to be non-Native.
ICWA was affirmed in a Montana case decided by the state Supreme Court in January, a ruling that underscored how the federal law applies to guardianships and third-party custody proceedings, in addition to adoption and foster care cases.
The child’s mother, an enrolled member of the Native Village of Kotzebue Tribe in Alaska, provided the court with verification that her three children were eligible for ICWA protections. She asked the courts to remove her children from the Montana home of their paternal grandparents — who had full custodial rights — and restore her custody. The case was sent back to lower courts for further proceedings to determine if the children should be returned to their mother.
Nearly two weeks after the Brackeen decision in mid-June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of a recent Minnesota case making a related equal protection argument — that ICWA discriminates against non-Native foster and adoptive parents.
In March 2022, Hennepin County was sued by two Indigenous foster parents who were unsuccessful in the adoption of the Indigenous child they were fostering. Instead, the child’s tribe, Red Lake Band of Chippewa, took over the proceedings and granted custody to the child’s maternal grandmother. The foster parents were considered “nonmembers” in the ICWA case, because one is enrolled in the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa and the other is a White Earth Nation descendant.
The plaintiffs in the case — who, under ICWA, lost priority in their adoption efforts in favor of the child’s relative despite having adopted the child’s siblings — were represented by Minnetonka attorney Mark Fiddler, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. He also represented the white adoptive couples seeking to overturn ICWA in Brackeen v. Haaland. The conservative Goldwater Institute filed amicus briefs in both cases, challenging ICWA’s constitutionality.
In an email, Fiddler said that while the institute attacked ICWA as unconstitutional, the plaintiffs did not. “Rather, they argued ICWA could and should be interpreted to be constitutional by not forcing nonmembers into a jurisdiction foreign to them,” he said.
“Petitioners were improperly subjected to the personal and subject matter jurisdiction of a state foreign to them, one where they have no right to vote,” plaintiffs stated in Denise Halvorson v. Hennepin County Children’s Services Department case documents. As a result, the lower court violated “their due process rights to fundamental fairness and equal protection.”
But the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied on June 26.
Fiddler said despite the high court upholding ICWA in Brackeen and its denial of the Hennepin County case, establishing standing in an equal protection case against ICWA “would be easy,” and he fully expects continued challenges to the law on this issue and others.
“Any foster or adoptive parent would have the right to move to strike down ICWA in state court, so long as he or she was jeopardized by it somehow,” Fiddler stated shortly after the Brackeen decision.
The Imprint is a non-profit, non-partisan news publication dedicated to reporting on child welfare.
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How Big Ag Pollutes America’s Waters and Makes Money Doing It
States are weakening their child labor restrictions nearly 8 decades after the US government took kids out of the workforce
Does the Mississippi River have rights?
The Mississippi River flowed lazily under the Centennial Bridge, which connects Illinois and Iowa in the Quad Cities. Cars cruised past on a Saturday afternoon in early May, waving and occasionally honking at a long line of environmentalists who say the river is alive.
Glenda Guster was among the roughly 80 people to join the Great Plains Action Society’s Walk for River Rights — the centerpiece of a three-day summit earlier this month for Black and Indigenous organizers from across the Mississippi River basin, who, among other things, want to grant the river legal standing.
Like many making the march across the river, Guster, who held a sign saying “water is life” over her head, said the river needs more protection.
“The river has rights, just like human rights,” said Guster. “Nature has rights and it’s up to us to preserve these rights.”
According to Sikowis Nobis, the founder of the indigenous rights organization, the goal of the summit was to build a riverwide coalition to rethink the legal framework they believe imperils life on and in the Mississippi River. The way she sees it, the existing legal system cannot confront the types of environmental disasters that are increasingly imminent – but “Rights of Nature” might.
The idea is that natural entities like rivers, trees and wildlife have the same rights as humans and thus have legal standing in a court of law. Natural entities, the legal principle holds, constitute living beings with legally enforceable rights to exist that transcend the category of property.
“The Earth is really suffering, and rights of nature would basically give personhood to the river,” Nobis said. “It would allow us to have more power to keep it safe.”
The legal movement to grant natural entities like forests and rivers the same legal rights as humans has won meaningful success abroad, and has in recent years picked up steam in the United States. Largely Indigenous-led campaigns to recognize the legal rights of natural entities like wild rice in Minnesota, salmon in Washington, and the Klamath River in northern California are setting the stage for a nascent movement for the Mississippi River.
The implications of rights of nature as a legal instrument are far reaching. Companies could be taken to court for damaging ecosystems, and construction projects with the potential to cause environmental damage could be stopped.
That’s exactly what happened in Tamaqua, a small town in Pennsylvania. Thomas Linzey is a senior attorney at the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights and drafted the document to grant the small borough rights.
“It may be a radical concept, or it was 20 years ago, but we’re rapidly coming to a place where without this kind of new system of environmental law, we’re all kind of done, we’re kind of cooked,” said Linzey.
Ultimately, locals were able to stop sewage sludge from being dumped in Tamaqua using the new ordinance.
Linzey said that before the rights of nature movement made its way into the mainstream, it was born from the cosmologies of indigenous people that recognized the natural world as made up of living beings – not just resources or commodities.
In 2008, Linzey consulted the Ecuadorian government while it drafted its new constitution, the first in the world to ratify the Rights of Nature. In 2021, an Ecuadorian municipality appealed to the constitutional protections to overturn mining permits that they said violated the rights of nature of the endangered Los Cedros rainforest.
“The work has spread to other countries, and in the U.S. to about over three dozen municipalities at this point,” said Linzey.
Ecuador remains the only country in the world to enshrine the rights of nature in its constitution. A similar proposal was considered in Chile last year, and the island nation of Aruba is currently reviewing its own amendment addressing the inherent rights of nature. Court decisions in countries like Bangladesh, Colombia and Uganda have successfully held up the rights of nature. Local laws and treaty agreements recognizing the rights of nature are emerging across the globe, particularly in the U.S.
Lance Foster, a member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and a speaker at the Mississippi River Summit, said that a couple years ago, the success of rights of nature in South America got his and other tribes thinking, why not us?
“And we wondered why haven’t the big rivers, like the Missouri River, and the Mississippi River, gotten those rights?” said Foster.
He said his tribe and others have created an inter-tribal resolution for the rights of the Missouri River. They hope to use it to fight industrial scale agriculture and deep mining operations.
“If the Mississippi had those rights recognized… it would be able to have standing in court for an advocate on its behalf to help clean it up,” said Foster.
Two years ago in Minnesota, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe brought a suit against the Enbridge corporation’s Line 3 on behalf of wild rice, called Manoomin. And last month, the city of Seattle settled a case with the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe over the claim that salmon had the right to spawn, among other rights.
Because the Mississippi and Missouri rivers flow through so many states and tribal lands, experts said it would be prohibitively complicated to secure legal standing for them in the courts.
But Foster said if corporations get legal rights in the U.S., why shouldn’t rivers? Afterall, they were here far before humans.
States like Idaho, Florida and Ohio have moved to preemptively ban the possibility that nature or ecosystems can have legal standing. Even so, Foster said the rights of nature isn’t as unthinkable as it once was. After all, children, women, Black and indigenous people were denied rights once too – what’s stopping the river.
“It gives us a chance,” said Foster. “Now, will we take that chance as a society? I’m dubious most days, but we have to keep trying, we have to keep going to the bitter end.”
This story is a product of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, an editorially independent reporting network based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in partnership with Report For America and the Society of Environmental Journalists, funded by the Walton Family Foundation.
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Most water quality violations are from monitoring and reporting issues
More than 90% of Americans access drinking water through public water systems, which are regulated at the state and local level, according to the government-standardized data portal USA FACTS.
During 2021, there were 153,501 total water quality violations across all U.S. states and territories. Of the total violations, more than 63% were found because of issues with monitoring and reporting by regulatory agencies.
The high proportion of monitoring, reporting and public notification violations raises questions about how well tens of thousands of public water supply systems test for and report potential health violations to EPA and the public, according to a USA FACTS report released in November 2022.
While the total number of violations in 2021 is lower than the 10-year average, the frequency of drinking water violations does not appear to be decreasing over time, according to the report.
In states such as Iowa and other big agricultural states — with extensive crop production and livestock farming, which involves the use of fertilizer, pesticides and manure — runoff from these activities contributes to water pollution.
These pollutants, particularly nitrates and phosphates, can enter water bodies, causing problems such as harmful algal blooms, oxygen depletion and degradation of aquatic ecosystems.
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