We Need a Seventh Generation Amendment
by Winona LaDuke
The preamble to the US Constitution declares that one of its purposes is to secure "the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity." Shouldn't those blessings include air fit to breathe, water decent enough to drink and land as beautiful for our descendants as it was for our ancestors?
We need a Seventh-Generation Amendment to the US Constitution to protect our common property rights and ensure these blessings to ourselves and our posterity.
Common-property resources are those that are not or cannot be owned by an individual or a corporation, but are held by all people. These "blessings of liberty" should be used or enjoyed only in ways that do not impair the rights of others - including future generations - to use or enjoy them. This is perhaps best reflected in the Iroquois Confederacy's maxim: "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."
The rights of all people to use and enjoy air, water and common lands are essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These most basic human rights have been impaired by those who discharge toxic substances into the air or water, and by those who extract resources from public lands with little concern for fellow citizens or future generations. Their actions imperil our lives, our liberty and our ability to pursue happiness. Such actions must be recognized as fundamentally wrong in our system of laws just as the theft or destruction of private property is fundamentally wrong.
The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska is only one example of the destruction of common property by private interests. Others include over-fishing of common US waters by private companies and pollution of air by industry. We cannot let this go on.
Despite recent moves by the Clinton Administration to strengthen our environmental laws, those laws still are no match for the destructive practices of private interests that poi- son our air, water and land. Our public policy is lagging behind our ability to destroy ourselves.
The Fifth Amendment preserves our right to private property and the protection of that property. The US legal system needs to establish a clear distinction between private property and common property. Both must be defended vigorously. If private property has found a safe haven in the Fifth Amendment, where is common property equally protected?
Our proposed Seventh Generation Amendment to the US Constitution states, "The right of citizens of the United States to use and enjoy air, water, sunlight and other renewable resources determined by the Congress to be common property shall not be impaired, nor shall such use impair their availability for the use of future generations."
Those who framed the Constitution could not have imagined the United States as it is at the millennium. If we don't think of the generations to come, there may not even be a United States to imagine.
(c)1997 Winona LaDuke
Used by permission of the author.