Women religious, indigenous peoples in solidarity on nature's rights

Quito, Ecuador — At the Global Rights of Nature summit, Vandana Shiva, an internationally renowned physicist and environmental activist, led the ritual Thursday on our last morning in Otavalo, sharing some of India’s poems and hymns to Mother Earth. One began, “Whatever, I dig of you, O Earth, may that grow quickly upon you.”

“In California we’re seeing a drought of unprecedented proportions,” said Linda Sheehan, director of the Earth Law Center, based in Fremont. “In Santa Monica, the people passed an ordinance that recognizes the ‘inalienable rights’ of ecosystems to exist, creating a plan for 100 percent water self-sufficiency by 2020. They’re going to meet and beat that goal.”

Sheehan spoke of how human rights are “intimately connected with nature’s rights,” particularly in the case of water. To underscore the point, the Earth Law Center launched an interactive map of co-violations of human and nature’s rights.

The Earth Law Center was founded in 2008 by Adrian Dominican Sr. Patricia Siemen as an offshoot of the Florida-based Center for Earth Jurisprudence -- also founded by Siemen, in 2006 at Barry University School of Law and St. Thomas University. Inspired by Thomas Berry’s understanding of the earth’s need for a new jurisprudence and the urgency of the signs of the time, Siemen is among the first leaders of the global rights of nature movement.

“Coming out of a tradition that has done so much harm to Earth and indigenous peoples impels us to claim the sacredness of all creation, and to solidarity with indigenous peoples,” Siemen said. “The concept of inherent rights of nature emerges from the continuing tradition of indigenous peoples, who like Earth herself struggle to exist and flourish.

"Their cosmovision provides the world with a path forward, yet their communities continue to be targeted for destruction and commodification. The call for women religious to stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples and Earth is ever more urgent – and needed," she said.  

The summit concludes Friday in Quito, where a public tribunal will hear seven key rights of nature cases and then model how to resolve such cases in courts. 

[Adrian Dominican Sr. Elise D. García, is the former co-director of Santuario Sisterfarm, an ecology center in the Texas Hill Country dedicated to cultivating cultural and biological diversity. She is attending the Global Rights of Nature summit, and has been blogging updates throughout the week.]