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Box 7–1. Extracts from the Constitution of Ecuador

“We, the sovereign people of Ecuador… celebrating Nature, the Pachamama [Mother Earth] of which we are part and which is vital to our existence, … decided to build a new order of cohabitation for citizens, in its diversity and in harmony of nature, to achieve el buen vivir, sumak kawsay [well-being]” (Preamble).

El buen vivir requires that individuals, communities, peoples and nationalities shall effectively enjoy their rights, and exercise responsibilities within the framework of inter-culturality, respect for their diversity and harmonious cohabitation with Nature”(article 275).

Individuals and communities have the right to benefit from the environment in order to enjoy buen vivir (articles 73 and 74).

“Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structures, functions and its processes in evolution” and empowers every person or community to demand the recognition of these rights before public bodies (article 72).

All Ecuadorian women and men must respect the rights of nature, preserve a healthy environment and use national resources in a rational, viable and sustainable manner (article 83(6)).

The state must –

1. guarantee the rights of Nature as well as of individuals and groups, (article 277(1));

2. promote forms of production which will ensure quality of life for the people and discourage those which threaten those rights or those of nature (article 319);

3. guarantee a sustainable model of development which protects biodiversity and the natural capacity of ecosystems to regenerate (article 395(4));

4. apply any ambiguous legal provisions relating to the environment in the way most favorable to the protection of nature (article 395(4)).

Source: See endnote 7.

earth from a road-widening project into the river. Subsequent litigation to prevent major mining projects has been unsuccessful, however.

In the United States, a quiet grassroots revolution among local communities continues to gather momentum. Since 2006, when the Pennsylvaniabased Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund first helped the Borough of Tamaqua pass a local ordinance recognizing the rights of nature, scores of local communities (and even cities like Pittsburgh) have claimed their right of self-determination by enacting local legislation that protects the health of local ecosystems. This legislation recognizes that local ecosystems have a right to thrive and flourish that must take precedence over corporate interests and rights.

New Zealand provides one of the most interesting examples of how indigenous understandings of the interrelation between human well-being and nature can influence the development of legal systems. In 2012, after protracted litigation, the government signed an agreement with the Whanganui iwi, a Maori tribe with strong cultural ties to the Whanganui River, acknowledging that the river would be recognized as a legal person, called Te Awa Tupua. The agreement recognizes the Whanganui River as an indivisible and living whole, from the mountains to the sea, incorporating its tributaries and all of its physical and metaphysical elements.

The agreement provides for the appointment of two persons (Pou) of high standing to play a guardianship role, one appointed by the Crown and the other appointed collectively by all iwi with interests in the Whanganui River. Significantly, the guardians are regarded as being accountable to the river and not to their appointors. In the coming years, all parties with an interest in the river—including iwi, central and local government, commercial and recreational users, and other community groups—will collaborate to develop a “whole of river” strategy for the river's management and use.

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