North Country community members have come together to create locally developed environmental legislation to protect the inherent rights of the rivers and watersheds of North Country, Haudenosaunee Territory, and to fulfill their ecological responsibilities.
On March 22, 2022, a youth-led North Country Rights of Nature Symposium was held (moderated by the Voice of Rivers Youth Committee) where a panel of traditional knowledge holders, legal experts, and community organizers come together to discuss how to create an ecocentric governance system for the region’s waterways, including the Rights of Nature, indigenous stewardship practices, and how to re-frame the relationship between people and the rivers. With Talking Rivers (a group of organizers, educators, lawyers, and activists from the territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (across what is now known as northern New York State), these students joined Elders and youth from the Mokawk Nation of Akwesasne and the adjacent communities to write a sample Local Ordinance and a Declaration for the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities of the St. Lawrence River/ Kaniatarowanénhne. The sample St. Lawrence River Ordinance can be applied bio-regionally and serve as a template for all the Adirondack Watersheds and for local municipalities and Tribes to draft their own laws.
The Ordinance and Declaration recognize the St. Lawrence River / Kaniatarowanenneh possess fundamental and inalienable rights including: “the rights to exist, regenerate, flourish, evolve, adapt, and thrive.” The documents also emphasize human responsibilities towards Nature, expressing that Indigenous communities, such as the Kanienkehaka [Mohawk] people and the Akwesasne Nation, have worked in harmony with the St. Lawrence River / Kaniatarowanénhne Watershed since time immemorial. The guiding principles, found in the Kanianerenkó:wa (Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace) and the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen (Thanksgiving Address), instruct communities to honor, respect and protect nurture, and care for its delicate balance.
The North Country community has also created a Watershed Guardian Resolution that recognizes “our responsibility to the Watershed, to respect the Rights of the Watershed, and to act as Guardians and demand that our local government recognizes the Rights of the Rivers and ecosystems that make up the Watershed and adopt local laws that protect these rights.” It invites individuals to sign and become a Watershed Guardian advocating for its inherent rights and fulfilling their ecological responsibilities.
North Country Rights of Nature also collaborated with the International Observatory on the Rights of Nature to create an International Resolution for the Rights of the St. Lawrence River.