The rights of Indigenous People and the Rights of Mother Earth

Dianna Suarez, Michelle Montgomery, Guarionex Delgado, and Sharon Delgado                         for Earth Justice Ministries

Published in the Union of April 24, 2021

On April 22, 2021, we here at Earth Justice Ministries observe and celebrate the 51st anniversary of the first Earth Day while the shadows and legacy of racism, white nationalism, and white supremacy loom over the United States of America. We reflect on how humankind is witnessing the painful consequences of our collective behavior on the living planet that we call Earth. We face this reality and acknowledge the harm we have done.  We accept responsibility to deal with present day ecological and environmental challenges and emergencies by making amends through restoration, reparation, and restitution for our wrongs and those of the many who came before us.

On this occasion, we affirm the rights of Mother Earth and the rights of Indigenous people, and human rights as integrally connected and essential for transitioning to ways of living in harmony with the natural world.

We humans are part of the interconnected community of life, yet often we remain mired in ways of thinking and behaving that are selfish and destructive, even self-destructive, when considered from the perspective of the larger whole. We are aware of past environmental and ecological harm we human beings and our institutions have caused as well as the continuing and escalating harm we do.

Water, land, and air are being polluted by our exploitive and extractive practices, trash, hazardous waste, and the burning of fossil fuels. Ecosystems are being destroyed and forests are dying because of human induced climate change and drought as well as being cut down to satisfy the desires of the consumer culture that dominates the Earth.

Ignorance, denial, and biases make it difficult to address the systemic injustice and destructiveness affecting the human family and much of life on Earth. They also make it difficult to respond effectively to the existential and spiritual threats to humans, Mother Earth, her creatures, and natural systems, especially those which are most vulnerable. Our human and non-human relations are all being adversely affected by our lack of respect, and mental and spiritual disconnection from the web of life. Many species are rapidly becoming extinct.  

Around the world, Indigenous peoples are rising to today’s challenges, taking the lead on varied struggles, insisting that “water is life,” pointing to ancient worldviews and values that inform ways of living that have sustained humans and other forms of life for thousands of years.

But collective action by all of us is required to bring about a just transition to a livable future. Such action must be grounded in evidence-based science and must challenge the consumer culture’s worldview and values, which are insufficient for bringing about the transformation that is required. We must also recognize, honor, and renew our spiritual and emotional connections to the whole community of life.

In this region, these include the polluting impacts of legacy mining and the damming of rivers. Locally, we seek to prevent further degradation of the environment by joining together, supporting, and collaborating with others who are actively opposing the reopening of the Idaho Maryland Mine by the Rise Gold Corporation and the damming of Bear River by the Nevada Irrigation District. We also support removal of obstacles that prevent salmon from accessing headwaters where they spawn and die contributing their bodies as nourishment to the land and continuing and benefitting the cycle of life.

We recognize that we, in the Americas, live on land stolen from its native people through violence and genocide. We call on nations and governments to honor treaties and restore the land to the descendants of its original people. We support and call for federal recognition of the Nisenan people, who are indigenous to this region, fully understanding that environmental and ecological wellbeing and the rights of Indigenous people are intertwined.

We ask that Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church admit the harms caused by the papal bulls “Dum Diversas” issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452, known as the Doctrine of Discovery, and “Inter Caetera” issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493,  which authorized Spain and Portugal to colonize, convert, and enslave the Native peoples of the Americas as subjects.  We ask that Pope Francis rescind them and disavow their moral and ethical legitimacy.

On this Earth Day, we once again affirm our commitments to the well-being and restoration of Earth, her natural systems, the community of life, and humanity. And once again, we urge universal adoption of the Rights of Mother Earth and the Rights of Indigenous people.  Finally, we affirm the need to confront and heal the legacy of racism and violence that threatens to undo the hope and promise of democracy and peace for our hurt and hurting world.