MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County is the first county in Wisconsin to endorse the 'Rights of Nature' movement. It's a global movement that is backed by indigenous tribes in Wisconsin. On Friday, County Executive David Crowley signed a Resolution to officially endorse the movement.
"Protecting the nature that surrounds us in this predominantly urban area is just one of the ways we're working to achieve our vision of making Milwaukee County the healthiest county in the state of Wisconsin," Crowley said.
The Rights of Nature Movement advocates for the idea that nature deserves our respect, protection and legal rights.
Guy Reiter, a member of the Menominee Tribe and Executive director of Menikahnaehkem, has spearheaded the movement in Wisconsin. On Friday he spoke about the importance of the county recognizing the 'Rights of Nature.'
"One of the things that came to my mind was when they first landed on the moon, right? This is one step for man, one huge step for our environment," Reiter said emulating Astronaut Neil Armstrong. "That's kind of the way I think of it because it's been very long time that we've been able to think of the environment as something that's part of us."
Before the signing of the resolution, Siobhan Marks of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa led a water ceremony. Marks' native name is Zeegwun Noodiense.
"Water is life. It's absolutely essential to our well-being, it's essential to us to be able to live," Marks said about the importance of the ceremony.
Marks works at the Indian Community School in Franklin, WI. She sees firsthand every day just how important it is to protect the natural world for future generations.
"We are always thinking about seven generations ahead. So it's our children, and their children, and their great grandchildren," Marks said. "It's what we've always done... as indigenous people this is just our way of being, our way of relating with the natural world. This is how we've always viewed it."
She's excited to see more allies outside of the indigenous community join the Rights of Nature movement. She hopes those just learning about the movement will learn from and work with indigenous communities.
"We're so grateful for that understanding, acknowledging and willingness to stand up and protect it with us is incredible," Marks shared. "To try and understand an indigenous point of view is very important."
The county's resolution only endorses the movement, but indigenous activists hope this step leads to formal laws across the country to protect the environment.
"I'm a hopeful person by nature," Marks said of what lies ahead.
"I just really want to thank our tribal nations for preserving, not giving up. In a world that's not especially kind to us, we never forget our work here for Mother Earth, the creator, and for all living things."