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Dr Cristy Clark
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Dr Erin O’Donell
University of Melbourne
Dr Anne Poelina
Nyikina Warrwa Traditional Owner
Dr Alessandro Pelizzon
Southern Cross University

Since 2008, rights of nature have rapidly progressed from an engaging but largely theoretical legal concept into actual legal outcomes. The rapid emergence of rights for nature over the past decade across multiple contexts has seen, especially over the past two years, increasing awareness, recognition, and, ultimately, acceptance of rights of nature by the global community. Yet, too often, both scholarly publications and news articles bury the lede: that the most transformative cases of rights for nature have been consistently influenced, and often actually led, by Indigenous peoples. Although the lack of sovereign power on the part of Indigenous communities means that they may not be responsible for the formal enactment of these new rights, we argue that rights of nature would either simply not have happened, or would have been much less effective in delivering on-ground environmental outcomes, without the leadership, both practical and theoretical, of Indigenous peoples. In this paper, we explore the ontologies of rights of nature and earth jurisprudence, and the intersections of these movements with the leadership of Indigenous peoples in claiming and giving effect to their own rights. We examine key international examples where Indigenous peoples have strategically adopted ‘rights of nature’ language, as well as the role of Indigenous and local communities in cases in which natural entities have been recognised as rights holders. Based on early observations, there is an emerging trend of increased efficacy, longevity and transformative potential being linked to a strongly pluralist approach of law making and environmental management. Finally, we argue that a truly transformative and pluralist ecological jurisprudence can only be achieved by enabling, and empowering, Indigenous leadership.

Dr Erin O’Donnell is an Early Career Academic Fellow at Melbourne Law School. Her research focus is the ground-breaking new field of legal personhood and rights for rivers, and the challenges and opportunities these new rights create for water management, including the intersections with water markets, Indigenous rights, and environmental flows. Her work is informed by a global perspective, including detailed comparative analysis across Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, the USA, India, Colombia, and Chile.

Dr Anne Poelina champions the need to strengthen Indigenous peoples’ capacity to uphold their human, cultural and economic rights. Her work bridges culture shared lived experiences and understandings as being integral to transformational change. Bringing these threads together these relationships are grounded in collective wisdom; traditional ecological knowledge, customary law with trans-disciplinary knowledges; ecological, archaeological, heritage, arts and cultural values. This aligned with the rights of nature as the solutions for planetary health and wellbeing through an earth-centred regional governance provides the hope necessary to re-imagine the future now!  Dr Anne Poelina, is a Nyikina Warrwa Traditional Owner and a guardian of the Mardoowarra, Lower Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Anne is the Managing Director of Madjulla Inc., Chair of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council and Deputy Chair of the Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation (Native Title Body Corporate). Dr Poelina life career in Indigenous, human and environmental advocacy spans four decades achievements include Master Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Master Education, Master Arts (Indigenous Social Policy), Doctor of Philosophy & Doctor of Health Science Scholar. Peter Cullen Fellow (2011), Laureate Women’s World Summit Foundation (Geneva) (2017) Adjunct Senior Research Fellow the University of Notre Dame (Nulungu Institute of Research), Adjunct Research Fellow Charles Darwin University.

Dr Alessandro Pelizzon is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and Justice, where he also serves as Course Coordinator of the Master program and Coordinator of the Honours program. Alessandro completed his LLB/LLM in Italy, specializing in comparative law and legal anthropology with a field research project conducted in the Andes. His PhD thesis focused on native title and legal pluralism in the Illawarra. Alessandro has been exploring the emerging discourse on rights of nature, Wild Law and Earth Jurisprudence since its inception, with a particular focus on the intersection between this emerging discourse and different legal ontologies. He has organised the Second Australian Conference on Wild Law and Earth Jurisprudence in 2010, and he is one of the founding members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance. Alessandro’s main areas of research are legal anthropology, legal theory, comparative law, ecological jurisprudence, sovereignty, and Indigenous rights.

Dr Cristy Clark is a legal scholar whose research focuses on legal geography, the commons, and the intersection of human rights, neoliberalism, activism, and the environment. She has a long standing interest in water, including the human right to water, the legal personhood of rivers, and Indigenous water values.

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