Earth Right Conference in Sweden, April 2017


In Sigtuna, the oldest city of Sweden, a conference on the theme Earth Rights were held during 21-22 April. Sigtunastiftelsen, that for hundred years has hosted a variety of conferences and meetings, hosted more than hundred participants came to discuss and pave the way to the rights of nature. International guests, such as Patricia Gualinga, Mari Margil, Mumta Ito, Cormac Culinan and Femke Wijdkop who are in the forefront of the earth rights movement gave lectures and workshops. National key figures were Marie Persson from the Sami parliament, Åsa Simma, CEO of the Giron Sámi Theáther, Jan Terstad from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Peter Westman from WWF Sweden and Martin Hultman from Linköping University.

Organised by NGOs such as Lodyn, End Ecocide Sweden, Latinamerikagrupperna (Solidarity Sweden – Latin America), WWF Sweden, the event gave space for one of the most important topics of our times; legal rights for nature. Many of the keynote speakers during the conference are leading the movement on an international level such as Cormac Cullinan who was part of the universal declaration of Mother Earth from Bolivia 2010. Also Patricia Gualinga who through her tireless efforts together with her community in Sarayaku, Ecuador, has shown to the world that even small communities can do big changes.

What was expressed throughout the whole conference was the fact that we need to urgently decolonize ourselves, since colonialism is one of the root causes of what we are facing today. In order to do so we need to turn to the sages of our age, the indigenous people who still keeps the wisdom of harmony in their speech, action and culture. This was elaborated by Cullinan, a South African lawyer specialist in Earth jurisprudence and the author of the book Wild Law, who through his position as a white male had learned what damage colonialism has done in South Africa from the side of the oppressor. This had lead him to deeply reflect upon the concept of rights, taking it to the most fundamental level with rights to the natural world that sustains us. There are no human rights without the rights of nature.

Mari Margil from the CELDF, was the first speaker of the event highlighting that what we are doing today is having effect in the future, so how do we build this movement for the future? She has for the past ten years or so worked closely with communities around the world, helping them establish local laws recognizing nature as a juridical subject. Margil, with her expertise and yet easily understandable language of law, thoroughly painted a clear picture of the need and value of jurisdiction where nature is given rights. Her presentation was followed by Femke Wijdekop, End Ecocide speaking about the End Ecocide movement and stating that “we need enlightenment 2.0” since the old enlightenment is not doing us any good anymore.

Paneldiscussion with Mari Margil, Femke Wijdekop, Jan Terstad, Peter Westman

When the ideas presented by these two powerful women were later discussed in a panel together with Jan Terstad and Peter Westman, Terstad argued that we need to have the right window of opportunity before these ideas can be implemented. Margil together with Wijdekop opposed this idea meaning that we have to create the windows of opportunity ourselves. No time is to be wasted, no time is there even left.

I was there representing United Nations of the Spirit, while also connecting with Latinamerikagrupperna, a NGO with focus on and solidarity with Latin America and farmers and indigenous communities there. A newly initiated theme group with focus on Buen Vivir and Rights of Nature was formed just few weeks before the conference and some of the activists, including yours truly, met there for the first time. The idea of the theme group is to work on a national level to promote the ideals of Buen Vivir and Rights of Nature and to start with going to the Earth Right Conference was, to put it mildly, an awesome way to kick off the work.

One of the honourable guests of the conference was Patricia Gualinga, from the Sarayaku tribe in Ecuador, who was there to speak about Sumak Kawsay, (‘Buen Vivir’ in the native language) and how this is a way of living in harmony within communities and with nature. Her speech was a powerful statement that it is the indigenous people and mainly the women, who by risking their life every day in order to defend Mother Earth are keeping the equilibrium on this planet. Without them we are lost and the need to unite our efforts is of greatest importance, where a conference such as this one was a magnificent way of doing it.

And I do have to agree that I was impressed by the conference, how the organizers and my everyday heroes such as Pella Thiel, Henrik Hallgren and all the others in the team, really created an existential depth to the whole thing. Many times conferences as such tend to be dry and on a very mental/intellectual level, but the ERC organisers expertly balanced the intellectual seminars and workshops, with exercises to reconnect with nature and the cause, artistic expressions and performances and co-creative elements such as an open space. It was braided in a beautiful way, with an impressive expertise and sensitivity to let everyone be a part in the creation of the conference. On the second day, being the day of Mother Earth, 22 of April, the day was opened with a humble ceremony to Mother Earth led by the ambassador of Bolivia and Carmen Blanco Valer, of Quechua origin from Peru and a well known activist and Mother Earth defender based in Sweden. Such a thing – to give the space to honour a spiritual relationship to nature is a game changer in countries such as Sweden since we are known as one of the most atheistic countries globally. It is radical i would say, and maybe one of the most important elements during the whole as it finally opens up, what in UNS language is called, a “new-old” way of relating to nature.

Organisers of the event opening the ceremony on Mother Earth day. From left Emilia Rekestad, Henrik Hallgren playing flute, Niklas Högberg, Åsa Simma, Marie Persson, Carmen Blanco Valer
Milon Rene Soo Santiesteban from Bolivian Embassy hosting the ceremony together with Quechua origin Carmen Blanco Valer, a mother earth defender based in Uppsala Sweden.

Another deeply moving part of the conference was the workshop of reconciliation where old wounds and pains of seeing the world being treated so badly were addressed. The major part of the workshop was given to the sami representatives, Marie Persson and Åsa Simma, since the colonisation of their land, language, culture and existence is going on even today. The pain of this is a large part of the sami identity which just in recent years has gained some, very deserved, attention. The Swedish church released a year back a vite book, a large work where the church’s part of oppression against the samis were worked through. Åsa Simma has directed a play addressing the collective shame within the sami community, that dates back hundreds of years and that has been passed down in generations. Samis were not allowed to anything within their own culture and children were placed in nomadic schools, far away from their families where they were treated as a lower form of humans. Simma was sharing her experience from this work, interviewing 200 samis where the interviews then laid as a foundation for the play CO2lonialNATION.

In that workshop also a declaration was worked out and later read by Marie Persson. You can find the declaration here.

Putting my UNS hat back on, great things was accomplished in our field as well. The declaration was handed to persons such as the ambassador of Bolivia, Milon Rene Soo Santiesteban, called it beautiful and a wonderful job. Also to Mari Margil, Marie Persson, Åsa Simma and Cormac Cullinan, who loved the initiative as well, wanting to work for UDSA with Earth Jurisprudence.

Mari Margil receiving the UNS declaration
The ambassador of Bolivia receiving the declaration of UNS

Mumta Ito, a friend of UNS since few years back was also present and working hard for the promotion of Nature’s Rights and getting more people on board. Ito was also together with Gualinga presenting their message in an event hosted in Gothenburg prior to the conference which was very appreciated and led to a local group working for the cause.

All in all the conference was a great success and tears were flowing when we reached the end. The need of these kind of gatherings, with an existential depth in combination with progressive solutions is immense. Maybe they are the holy ceremonies of our time, our way of reaching to a language and culture of a living relationship with each other and the planet. Real game changers to the individualistic, neo-liberal worldview.

Andris the bird whisperer can imitate around 120 birds and was happy to receive the declaration of UNS.
Cormac Cullinan receiving the declaration of UNS
Patricia Gualinga and Mumta Ito in Gothenburg