Written by: Jun.-Prof.Dr. Riccarda Flemmer Project: "The Transformative Potential of Rights of Nature?"/ “El potencial transformador de los derechos de la naturaleza? With colaboration from: Micha Bröckling- Research Assistant Mariana Contreras Leal- Research Assistant Lina Weber-Research Assitant
The Knowledge Dialogues between Latin America and Europe in the summer term 2023 aim to bring together activists, indigenous peoples, practitioners and scientists in a critical dialogue between the advocates and adversaries of Rights of Nature (RoN). The events will shed light on different topic areas, such as constitutional reforms, forest protection, global political transformation, and moral implications reflecting on the potentials and pitfalls of RoN for sustainable transformations. The series of dialogues is organized by Juniorprofessor Dr. Riccarda Flemmer and seeks to create a space for dialogue, mutual learning, and conjoint knowledge-production between the Global North and South.
Thinking like a mountain? The second event in the Knowledge Dialogues series about Rights of Nature explored the rights of mountains. On 15th June 2023, Riccarda Flemmer opened the event with Aldo Leopold’s (1949: 129) phrase “thinking like a mountain” and reflections about deep ecology. The thinking of deep ecology highlights that everything – human and non-human – is connected and does not distinguish between “life” and “lifeless” nature. Referring to the EcoJurisprudence Monitor, Riccarda showed the three listed cases relating to mountains. The milestone RoN case is Mount Taranaki in Aotearoa, New Zealand, who was given “legal personality” in the process of treaty settlements and reconciliation in 2017. In contrast, in 2022, a stewardship authority was established for mountain Manua Kea in Hawaii but this is not a RoN case, because Manua Kea is not recognized to have its own rights but is protected as a sacred place for humans. Neither a RoN case – yet – is the struggle of the Indigenous U’wa people in Colombia, who fight to protect their ancestral territory including the sacred Montaña Zizuma from extractive industries and bad state practices. Drawing on these insights from Indigenous struggles, questions emerge how far a similar approach can be transferred and thinkable in Europe e.g. assigning legal personhood to the Alps.
Indigenous conceptualization for a human-nature relationship of respect Tata Leo, authority of the original communities of the Yampara Nation, Bolivia, and funding member of the Fundación Cultural Ayllu Tarabucomanta (Foundation for our future - for our planet) shared the kausayninchej, nuestra Vida or our life, from an Andean cosmology. He shared his prevailing shock of traveling to Machu Picchu, an Inca site in the Peruvian Andes, as an Indigenous person and being denied access because of his traditional clothing. Drawing on this experience, he explained that his main preoccupation for the future is the lack of respect for nature in Western society and academic knowledge production. As an alternative, he supports Indigenous concepts such as “pachamama”. However, at the same time, he alerted us that the translation of Indigenous concepts into Western discourses and legal language changes the meaning and understandings get lost in Western thinking patterns. According to him, pachamama is often wrongly or narrowly translated to “mother nature” while in the original Andean cosmology it means the connectedness of all beings, that all is “one”. He concluded that specific rights for nature are not necessary, because all beings are one.
PhilosopherMatthias Kramm from Wageningen University and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México conducts research on RoN and Indigenous ontologies. He emphasized that he is not Indigenous himself but has learned from his engagement with Indigenous communities in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Mexico. He compared the Andean and Māori ontologies and explained how the struggle of the Māori led to the recognition of legal personhood for the Whanganui river, Te Urewera forest, and the Taranaki nature in 2017. He also highlighted the fusion of Indigenous and Western thought leading to notions of pachamama and buen vivir in the constitutions and laws of Ecuador and Bolivia. He criticized that not all relevant aspects of Indigenous ontologies can be captured by legal personhood, such as spirits. The notion of personhood itself is human-centered and biased building on the colonial history of rights-based conceptions and notions of property. Further, one single ecocentric paradigm cannot capture the diversity of Indigenous ontologies. The process of abstraction might lead to the opposite, creating a single dominant discourse instead of emancipating the plurality of ontologies.
Photographer and movie director Rodrigo Otero Heraud from Peru, who is currently showing his exhibition “Apu- Retratos de Montañas Sagradas del Perú“ in the Schloss Hohentübingen until the end of September, explained his relation and engagement with nature during the process of taking pictures. Coming from a deep love for nature, it is essential for him to communicate with the mountains. He does not differentiate between him as a subject going into nature but describes his hikes as an equal encounter with the mountains. They observe him as much as he observes them. Thus, he actively asks for allowance to take photos. Rodrigo sees his communication with the mountains as a mental state of “guaca”. Guaca means a place not in geographical terms, but as a mental position, often used to describe places of worship. Lastly, he warned us about the destructive impacts of mining and other industrial activities, which are harming the mountains and promoted a relationship of mutual respect.
Plenary discussion In the discussion, on the one hand participants raised the idea that RoN would not be necessary if humans encounter nature with respect and maturity. On the other hand, emphasis was set that RoN are necessary for humans to learn respect, particularly in Global North countries, such as Germany. Law would keep us humans accountable for not destroying nature and our future. Referring to the kind of RoN needed, participants emphasized that nature would need the right to an uninterrupted evolution. Connecting the rights of mountains with the idea of individual freedoms and their limitations in German or EU law, this would mean that each human would need to limit destructive behavior and respect the mountain's freedom to uninterrupted natural processes.
Synergies of knowledge Leo and Rodrigo both argued for a relationship between human and non-human nature based on respect. All speakers agreed that the contextualization of RoN is essential and to shed light on power asymmetries as well as the plurality of voices behind RoN. The controversy, especially regarding the potential danger of circumventing Indigenous rights when implementing RoN and the twist of turning RoN into another weapon of Western legality against Indigenous peoples, is dangerous. The crucial role of Indigenous knowledges in re-thinking Western anthropocentric human-nature relationships remains an ongoing challenge.
Further questions to be discussed:
If a mountain has the right to undisturbed natural processes, what would this mean in practice?
Which human representatives should be allowed to speak for mountains, and which should not? Humans need to protect mountains from destruction by humans, especially mining projects.
Some knowledge and connections get lost in translation. How can concepts, ideas, connections travel?
How do we deal with competitions between Rights of Nature vs. Rights for Indigenous Communities?
How can we think of non-human entities, especially "lifeless" nature, in RoN?
For more information about the series: "Knowledge Dialogues between Latin America and Europe about Rights of Nature" click here.