There are few law schools where a student would have an opportunity to work closely with the Dean of the College and co-author a scholarly paper, but the S.J. Quinney College of Law is one such place. With one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios in the country (4.7 students to every faculty member) students have opportunities to work closely with their professors who are among the country’s leading scholars in a variety of fields, including tribal law, public lands, climate change, and conservation easements.
Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner and 3L student Jensen Lillquist have co-authored an article published in the California Law Review that compares the rights of nature in international, federal, state, and tribal contexts. The article explores what states and the federal government can learn from tribal governments in this space, as tribal governments, with their long history of rights of nature, are laboratories of innovation that can teach other sovereigns within the boundaries of the United States.
A leading scholar in the field of Indian law, Dean Kronk Warner has long been an advocate of rights of nature, noting that “While rights of nature may be “new” or “novel” within the relatively young American federal government, many tribal nations located within the United States have had relationships with nature since time immemorial. We have reciprocal rights and responsibilities to nature that have served our communities well for eons.”
Jensen Lillquist (Class of 2023) served as Dean Kronk Warner’s Quinney Research Fellow during the 2021-2022 academic year. While working together, their research explored rights of nature claims emerging from different judicial systems in tribes, states, federal government, and internally. They determined that the topic was ripe for exploration through a law review article and agreed to write such an article together. “It was a wonderful opportunity to work with Jensen,” said Dean Kronk Warner, “as his enthusiasm for the topic was infectious and he is an incredibly hard worker with a keen intellect.” Jensen Lillquist noted of the experience, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to work with Dean Kronk Warner on this. She not only is an expert in Federal Indian Law but also is an excellent mentor. I cannot begin to express how great this opportunity was and how much I learned.”
Dean Kronk Warner and Jensen Lillquist hope that their forthcoming publication and presentation at the S.J. Quinney College of Law in November 2023, as part of the College’s programming for Native American & Alaska Native Heritage Month, will contribute to the robust rights of nature conversation in the legal community and the public. “A legal framework that includes rights of nature has and can work, but its likelihood of success turns on the environmental ethics of the community,” notes Dean Kronk Warner. Success depends on inclusivity and open dialogue and open minds. Tribal governments have much to contribute to the rights of nature movement in both the courts of law and in the broader public movement to accord legal rights to the non-human world on which we all depend.