On April 19 2023, a bill entitled “Rights of the Haw River Ecosystem Act” was submitted to the North Carolina General Assembly by Dr. Crystal Cavalier-Keck (a citizen of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation) and allies, which seeks statewide legislation recognizing the rights of the Haw River (the native land of the Sissipahaw tribe). The Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights (CDER) assisted the Native American Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party with drafting the legislation.
Among other things, the bill asserts the river’s inalienable legal rights to “exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve”, and would allow any North Carolinian to sue a polluter or a government agency on the river’s behalf (1). In addition, the bill recognizes the right of the people of North Carolina to a healthy Haw River Ecosystem, as well as stating protections of the collective and individual rights of indigenous people residing in the State (2).
In 2014, the Haw River was named a Most Endangered River by American Rivers due to the impact of decades of industrial pollution, runoff, dams, sewage spills, algae blooms, and other human activities.