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Ho Chunk Nation of Wisconsin fights for Rights of Nature, USA

In September 2016 , the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin was the first tribal nation in the United States to advance an amendment to their tribal constitution to recognize the rights of nature.


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.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Ho Chunk Nation of Wisconsin fights for Rights of Nature, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Wisconsin, Minnesota, and parts of Iowa and Illinois
Location of conflict:Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Shale gas fracking
Land acquisition conflicts
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Land
Sand, gravel
Biological resources
Ecosystem Services
Natural Gas
Crude oil
Frac sand
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Ho-Chunk tribe has been severely affected by the unregulated effects of frac sand mining, Bakken oil transport, high capacity wells and industrial agriculture to name a few. Some examples are given below:

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Project area:1,862.5
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectUnclear due to many projects, industries, formal and informal activities
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,000-12,000
Start of the conflict:09/2016
Company names or state enterprises:Badger Army Ammunition Plant (BAAP) from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF); Ho Chunk Nation of Wisconsin; Ho-Chunk General Council; Viterbo University
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Other Health impacts
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:This is an amendment of law for the tribal constitution. It would establish specific rights of nature, however does not state that nature is a legal person. The amendment though supported by majority in the tribal government has not yet been passed. In spite of passing the law how would it help in making decisions pro-nature, i.e. implementation of the law is still not clear.
In spite of these difficulties, the fact that this case has set an example for other communities and governments is an achievement.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands

Ho-Chunk Nation adds “Rights of Nature” to their constitution
[click to view]

Industrial sand project would destroy pristine wetlands
[click to view]

The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World
[click to view]

On the Rights of Nature
[click to view]

Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin General Council Votes to Add “Rights of Nature” to Tribal Constitution
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Radhika Mulay, Kalpavriksh
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3071
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