Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Environmental Analysis

Reader 1

Professor Susan Phillips

Reader 2

Professor Teresa Sabol Spezio

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Rights Information

© 2020 Megan C Schmiesing


Giving legal rights to nature is no longer a fringe idea in international environmental law. Rights of Nature movements have gained traction in countries around the world, including Ecuador, Australia, India, Aotearoa New Zealand, and the United States. The act of organizing to recognize legal rights and legal personhood for nature represents a philosophical, moral, and political shift from previous anthropocentric values. Through two case studies in Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States, this thesis examines the policy language and the context and history that led to their creation. The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act and the Lake Erie Bill of Rights are two examples of movements and policies that created legal rights for a natural entity, a river, and a lake, respectively. My analysis of these two unique case studies illustrates some of the elements necessary for such policies to be implemented and enforced effectively: careful consideration of the local community and existing systems, a collaboration between marginalized groups and legislatures, and chosen leaders to oversee implementation and guardianship of the entity. Using the text of the legislation, court cases, press releases, and images, I analyze the impacts, both philosophical and practical, of these salient political and environmental movements.