The Ho-Chunk are native to the present-day states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and parts of Iowa and Illinois. The two separate federally recognized tribal governments are the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. This case specifically documents the struggle for recognizing rights of nature of the Ho Chunk Nation of Wisconsin which has a population of around 10,000 to 12,000.
The name Ho-Chunk comes from the word Hochungra, meaning "People of the Big Voice" or "People of the Sacred Language.". Historically, the Ho-Chunk people respect the natural world and believe that when nature is viewed as only property it no longer has rights or value.
The Ho-Chunk people were forcibly relocated several times by the US federal government in the 19th century. In the 1870s, a majority of the tribe returned to their homelands in Wisconsin. Under the Homestead Act, some tribal members gained title to 40-acre (16 ha) parcels of land.
The Ho-Chunk tribe has been severely affected by the unregulated effects of frac sand mining. Other activities such as Bakken oil transport, high capacity wells and industrial agriculture, urbanisation, industrialisation, encroachment, lack of land rights and other similar issues have been affecting this minority tribe. Various projects are been planned on their sacred land which will disturb their cultural practises thus endangering their ethnic and cultural identities.
As a move towards protecting their lands and their ownership to the scared land, the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin is the first tribal nation in the United States to advance an amendment to their tribal constitution to recognize the rights of nature. In September 2016, the Ho-Chunk General Council (nineteen hundred members)voted overwhelmingly in support of the proposed amendment.
The preamble to the proposed Ho-Chunk constitution amendment reads:
Whereas, in the tradition of the Nation's relationship with Mother Earth, from which we came and upon which we depend… we recognize that to protect Mother Earth, we must place the highest protections on nature, through the recognition of rights in the Nation's highest law, our Constitution…
Tribal members Bill and William Greendeer of the Ho-Chunk Nation explained that this amendment is important as it will help the community to protect the land, keep water, air and environment healthy by having a larger say in what activities happen in our communities.
“The Ho-Chunk Nation has always respected the earth, says William, but we were made to adopt a constitution based on roman law that makes humans more important than everything else by passing this resolution we are acknowledging how important nature is. We are just one part of Mother Earth, not the center of it.”
The amendment establishes: Ecosystems and natural communities within the Ho-Chunk territory possess an inherent, fundamental and inalienable right to exist and thrive. Further it prohibits frac sand mining, fossil fuel extraction, and genetic engineering as violations of the Rights of Nature.
Juliee de la Terre, adjunct professor at Viterbo University stated that “The Rights of Nature” is more than an legal instrument it is an international movement meant to acknowledge that all natural systems need to be preserved in order for our planet to remain habitable.”