August/September 1998
Edited by Oliver Kim

A note from the staff...
Human Rights & Environmental Issues: Closer Than You Think
Reports from the Field: One Partner's Fellowship Experience
Local High School Project Sparks International Interest
Lesson Plan: The Rights of People Living With the Environment
Upcoming Events
This Months Booklist: Environment
Computer Resources

A Note From the Partners Program Staff...

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that we all have a right to an “adequate standard of living.” We could assume this includes the right to a clean environment although, in 1948 when the committee wrote the UDHR, they did not specifically include it as a right. In the past two decades, there has been a growing concern worldwide for the deterioration of ecosystems and the impact on human life and culture. In 1992, the United Nations held the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where world leaders and environmentalists drafted Agenda 21, a declaration which states that long term economic progress must be linked to environmental protection. The Preamble states, “We must fulfill basic human needs, improve living standards for all and better protect and manage ecosystems. No nation can secure its future alone; but together we can: in a global partnership for sustainable development.”

One of the worst examples of using land for economic profit without consideration of environmental or cultural impact is the United States’ historical and continual misuse and destruction of Native American territories. This issue of The Explorer addresses the negative impact of economic and industrial development on the environment and Native American cultures. This is not a historical human rights issue occurring in a foreign land; it is as local and immediate as the nuclear waste site at Prairie Island, the controversy over fishing rights on Mil Lacs Lake, and the energy we buy from NSP and Manitoba Hydro Plant which exploits the lands of the Cree Nation territories in the province of Manitoba. We can no longer remain uninformed and ignorant of the human rights abuses occurring in Minnesota to native people. We encourage you to check out the suggested web sites, books, and community newspapers listed in this month’s Explorer. And keep an eye out for our upcoming curriculum packet that will provide you with lesson plans and classrooms activities designed to educate yourself and your students on environmental and indigenous rights.

Human Rights and Environmental Issues: Closer Than You Think

We don’t often think about human rights and the environment together. But for several groups of indigenous people whose traditional lands border rivers, these two issues are intrinsically linked.

Their way of life depends on natural waterways such as rivers, but their community and environment is being disrupted severely by hydroelectric plants. Despite international boundaries, the plight of one group of indigenous people actually impacts us here in Minnesota.

While hydroelectricity generally is regarded as a “clean” energy alternative, it can have a severe environmental impact if improperly managed. Damming rivers can increase the strength and flow of water, which is used to turn hydroelectric generators to create energy. But this process can flood neighboring lands as well as increase mercury levels and other pollutants in river water.

One group severely affected by hydroelectric plants is the Cross Lake First Nation, one of five Bands of Cree Indians in Manitoba, Canada. In the 1970s, Manitoba Hydro constructed a hydroelectric plant on Cree land. After numerous protests, Manitoba Hydro agreed to sign the Northern Flood Agreement (NFA), a treaty signed in 1977 between the Canadian government, Manitoba Hydro, and the five Cree Bands. Today, the Cross Lake Band are protesting Manitoba Hydro because it has failed to live up to its part of the treaty for the past twenty years. Instead, Cross Lake argues, the company has ignored tribal leadership and made cash offers to other Cree Bands to drop lawsuits to enforce the treaty. The Cross Lake situation has a significant impact on Minnesota because local utility companies, including Northern States Power and Minnesota Power, are major exporters of Manitoba hydroelectricity.

The Pehuenche Indians of Chile face a similar situation. The Pehuenche, the last group of Mapuche Indians who continue to practice their traditional lifestyle, live along the Biobio River in Chile. According to the International Rivers Network, over one million people use this river for drinking, agricultural, commercial, and recreational needs. Despite the horrendous environmental and social impact, the Chilean utility corporation Endesa has decided to build six hydroelectric dams along the Biobio. “Ralco,” the largest of the six dams, is being constructed at the upper Biobio. This dam will displace more than 600 people, including the Pehuenche, as well as flood much of the river valley, destroying the surrounding forest and its wildlife.

Many of these projects are needless developments. For example, although Minnesota utilities account for 10% of Manitoba Hydro’s exports, this power actually makes up very little of the state’s total power consumption. Thus, Minnesotans would be barely affected if local utilities quit buying energy from Manitoba Hydro.

While hydroelectricity can provide cheap energy for many people, it can have potentially disastrous effects on indigenous people who depend on waterways to maintain their traditional way of life. We should not base our convenience on others’ hardships, particularly when there are other inexpensive energy alternatives available.

Reports from the Field: One Partner's Fellowship Experience

An educator and youth worker, Susan Nicolai of Minnesota spent last fall at Youth for Population Information and Communication (YPIC) in Kumasi, Ghana. This organization works to involve youth in achieving their rights, especially those related to health and reproduction. One of her projects in Ghana included a study, conducted by young people, in children’s rights and the life of Ghanaian youth.

Akwaaba-- welcome to Ghana. These words greeted me nearly everywhere I went during my three month stay in Kumasi, the historical capital of the Ashanti people. The Ashantis are a traditionally welcoming people. They believe that any visitor may have been sent by the gods. While I was only sent as a Fellow by Partners in Human Rights Education, I nevertheless experienced the warmest of greetings during my entire stay.

I was hosted by a non-governmental organization called Youth for Population Information and Communication (YPIC). Started by a group of young college students ten years ago under the premise that youth have the ability to positively contribute to their own development, it has grown over time from being a volunteer organization to employing more than twenty staff members at project sites throughout the nation. Currently, its work is with out-of-school youth in the field of reproductive health, with some select projects centered around children’s rights.

My work at the organization was to encompass a range of tasks, from designing the text for a sixty page base-line survey report on the region’s adolescent reproductive health, to conducting a four-week participatory action research project on children’s rights, to arranging American penpals for over thirty of the young people with whom I worked. The tasks were varied and interesting, but so much remains to be done. My contribution made just the tiniest dent toward combating the challenges facing the Ghanaian youth. What challenges are those? An economic base with a minimum wage of $1 a day, with many making less than this. A political environment where corruption is the accepted norm, which filters down as bribery in all sectors. A culture where obedience of the child is so ingrained that exploitation-- financially, physically, and sexually-- is pervasive. And an education system that is overwhelmed and underresourced, enabling approximately half of all eligible children to be enrolled at any given time. These problems are not completely foreign to us in the United States. The severity of the situation in Ghana, however, is much more pronounced.

In my time in Ghana, I saw all these issues-- manifested in a variety of ways-- affecting the people. Over and over I saw a lack of hope, a behavior that reinforced the powerlessness of each individual. But rarely did I see this attitude among the young. They had not yet learned, through experience, that their efforts to better themselves and their community would likely bring little results. So I saw the young people making what efforts they could. In the end, almost every time, they saw little results. But little results add up and can become big. The work I saw young people doing at YPIC was becoming big. It was changing the way members of the most at-risk population-- street youth-- behaved relating to their sexuality. It was helping other young people claim the power to make their own life decisions.

What I will remember most about my time in Ghana is not the dirt or the heat, not the food (which I didn’t enjoy so much), not even the difficulty of transportation. I will instead remember the akwaaba of the people, a welcome that was extended to me often in spite of my own trials and always in spite of theirs.

Local High School Project Sparks International Interest

Good things really do happen when students take action. That’s what happened when a group of Minnesota students’ discovery became an international scientific find and environmental concern.

In August 1995, New County High School students on a field trip to a state wildlife preserve noticed injured frogs. After a closer examination, the students realized these injuries were actually strange deformities! Half of the frogs discovered had such deformities as underdeveloped, fused, or missing legs; multiple feet; or bony protrusions. They began a research project to find out what was wrong. Students conducted phone interviews to find out what chemicals were being used in the area as well as developing a web page on the deformed frogs.

After learning about the Leseur, Minnesota school’s project, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency began a similar statewide study. It has been joined by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and numerous other organizations as it continues to investigate what is causing these deformities in native amphibians.

This concern extends beyond Minnesota; healthy amphibian populations have dropped in other states, Canada, and Japan. This decline has prompted concern about levels of pollution globally. Frogs and otheramphibians are a good indicator of pollution problems because frogs live both on land and in the water, and their skin is much more susceptible to the effects of pollution than other animals.

While scientists are not sure what is causing these deformities, they strongly believe that it is being transmitted through water. This situation is especially worrisome because some Minnesotans draw well water near affected sites. Since last year, deformed frogs were discovered in two-thirds of Minnesota counties.

Students interested in frogs and the environment can volunteer with “Thousand Friends of Frogs,” sponsored by Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education. Volunteers can help the center by surveying frogs and other amphibians for deformities in local wetlands. Students should also visit the New County High School’s Frog Project web site for ideas on what their schools can do.

Information for this article was taken from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the web sites of Minnesota New Country School Frog Project (; the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (>; and the Center for Global Environmental Education at Hamline University (

Lesson Plan:

The Rights of People Living With the Environment

This issue’s lesson plan comes from teacher Jenny Eisele and lawyers Johanna Bond and Clarissa Klug.

MN Standard:
Peoples and Cultures: Diverse Perspectives- Evaluate events and actions from diverse U.S. and world perspectives

Students will . . .
• describe viewpoints concerning differing perspectives
• identify issues around which conflict exists
• analyze arguments and synthesize their strengths and weaknesses

Preparatory Homework:
• Read through the Mock Trial Procedure, which is available in the Partners’ training manual.
• Set up your classroom (or any large room) like a courtroom: place the judge’s desk on one side of the room; have a chair next to the judge for witnesses to sit and to testify; place two desks for each party’s lawyer facing the judge’s desk; and place twelve chairs for the jurors so that they have a good view of the judge and the witness "stand".
• You should also gather materials needed to make the trial seem more “authentic,” such as a graduation robe and a gavel for the judge.
• Students should read Owl in the Shower by Jean George, which illustrates environmental issues, the rights of people, and potential conflicts.

Mock Trial Instructions: Rivertown vs. The Federal Government

1. Give students the following background information, which describes the federal statute and the hypothetical community where the trial will take place:

The community of Rivertown and its primary business of Rivertown Logging Company are jointly suing the federal government for $3.31 million for the devaluation of 56 acres of land due to a ban on logging under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The company has been the main business in Rivertown for the past fifty years. The population of Rivertown is 860. Rivertown Logging’s land consists of about 400 acres located next to or within national forest land. There are a pair of spotted owls nesting on Rivertown Logging’s land.
The Act states that it is unlawful to “take” endangered or threatened species. “Take” is defined as to “harass, harm, pursue, wound, or kill” and includes “significant habital modification or degradation.” A Supreme Court ruling in June 1995 stated that the government can ban the destruction of natural homes of endangered or threatened species on private property.

2. Several students can play the roles of various court officials. Two students play the roles of the defense lawyer representing the federal government and the prosecution lawyer representing Rivertown and the Rivertown Logging Company. Each presents opening and closing statements and tries to convince the jury whether it should award the $3.3 million to the community. Several students play jurors, who must decide whether to grant the award to Rivertown after listening to each lawyer’s arguments. One student should play the judge, who resolves disagreements between parties and ensures a fair and orderly trial.

3. Each student lawyer can call on expert witnesses, played by other students, to provide testimony to help him or her support his or her case:

Raptor biologists, who have determined that owls need 50% suitable habitat to survive. If Rivertown Logging goes through with its proposed logging plan, only 15% of the owls’ home nesting range would contain suitable habitat.

Friends of the Spotted Owls, who are protesting logging in Rivertown and worry that if loggers continue to disturb the area, few owls will survive and the food chain will be altered.

Federal Wildlife Agency Employee, who enforces the Endangered Species Act that protects the spotted owls but feels that, on a national level, this piece of property is not critical to their survival (even though it is the largest roost site in the state).

State Department of Natural Resource Employee, who wants to preserve the owls’ habitat but also wants to maintain a neutral stance so other logging in the area won’t be affected. Shutting down lumber companies could affect forestry management, financial support, and public access to land used for hiking and biking trails.

Mayor of Rivertown, who thinks preserving endangered species is important but does not believe the government should interfere with private property. The Mayor also fears that if Rivertown Logging loses money or shuts down, the town will face a severe economic crisis.

Landowners, who are upset because their property value has decreased as it can no longer be logged.

Rivertown Banker, who has lent money to Rivertown Logging and many of its employees. If there is no logging, many people may not be able to pay back their loans. Other businesses that depend on Rivertown Logging to purchase goods and services would be hurt, too.

Rivertown Lumber Company Owner, whose family-run company has kept the mill and a moderate-sized workforce employed for three generations but because of the owl problem, has been unable to have access to the old growth lumber. The company owner feels that if the government had managed public lands as his or her family managed its land, neither would be in this predicament.

Rivertown Logging Employee, who depends on Rivertown Logging to earn extra money to pay bills, feed and clothe the family, and make payments on the truck. The employee believes that trees grow back and feels that most birds adapt to changes whether caused by clear-cut logging or fires. He/she also knows that a portion of the taxes on lumber sales return to help the community’s schools and businesses.

Upcoming Events

Partners Program Announces Fall Training Dates
Volunteer Recruitment Meetings
If you have friends or co-workers who are interested in becoming involved in the Partners Program, please let us know so we can register them for an introductory meeting.

Introductory meetings will be held on the following dates from 6 to 8 pm, at the University of Minnesota Law School:
• Wednesday, August 12
• Tuesday, August 25
• Thursday, September 24

HRE Planning Sessions
Come plan what you want to do in the classroom for the upcoming school year. If you need to get rematched with a new team, this is the time to do it!

Planning sessions will be held on the following dates from 10 am to 3 pm, University of Minnesota Law School:
• Saturday, August 29
• Saturday, September 19
• Saturday, September 26

Center Begins Coffeehours
Thirsty? The Resource Center for the Americas will satisfy your caffeine addiction as well as your thrist for knowledge. The Center will resume its coffeehours every Saturday following Labor Day. The Center is located at 317 - 17th Ave SE in Minneapolis. You can contact the Resource Center by phone at (612) 627-9450, by email at, or by visiting its webpage at

Walk, Don’t Run, for Human Rights
The Partners Program will be participating in this year’s Walk for Justice, to be held Sunday, September 13. Dozens of human rights organizations participate in this annual fund-raiser, organized by the Headwaters Fund. The Walk will take place at Boom Island Park in Minneapolis.

Support the Partners Program by walking with us or making a pledge! Please call Johanna for registration forms, information, or just to make a pledge!

Get Ready to Party!
Clear your calendars! The first annual Partners Program house party fund-raiser will be held September 17. This is a great opportunity to meet your fellow volunteers and support the Partners Program. Check your mailbox for invitations with further information and directions.

Keeping You in the "Know"
Pick up a copy of The Circle, a community newspaper highlighting Native American news, arts, businesses, and other area events. Copies are available at public libraries, food co-ops and in the campus bookstore, Fraser Hall Room 125, and Scott Hall Room 107 on the U’s Minneapolis campus. If you can’t find a copy, hit The Circle’s home page at

New and Improved!
Check out the brand new look for the Partners Program’s web page! Designed by Tony Andrea, our new page features updated lesson plans and links. Just log on to, and prepare to be blown away!

Read More About... The Environment
For Younger Readers

There’s an Owl in the Shower by Jean Craighead George
Synopsis by Amazon.Com: In this middle grade novel, acclaimed author and illustrator Jean Craighead George tells the story of how one unusual spotted owl makes his way into the home-- and hearts-- of a family of loggers. A lighthearted and humorous look at the debate between human industry and conservation.

• William the Curious: Knight of the Water Lilies by Charles Santore
Synopsis by Amazon.Com: Acclaimed artist Charles Santore’s sumptuous illlustrations and provocative “environmental fairy tale” will have readers cheering, as a courageous little frog dares to tell a queen how she has disrupted the harmony of the rest of the kingdom in her quest to achieve perfection in her castle.

Kid Heroes of the Environment by Earth Works Group
Synopsis by Barnes and Noble: Here is an inspiring collection of environmental success stories about real-life kids who are doing great things for the earth. Each story contains a description of a kid-based project, interviews, and a listing of sources readers can contact for further information-- so young readers everywhere can become “Kid Heroes.”

Rand McNally Children’s Atlas of the Environment
Synopsis by Barnes and Noble: Maps and text protray the world’s ecosystems, environmental concerns, and positive suggestions of what can be done to help the planet.

For High School and Adult Readers

Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie
Synopsis by Amazon.Com: The life of Spokane Indian Thomas Builds-the-Fire irrevocably changes when blues legend Robert Johnson miraculously appears on his reservation and passes the misfit storyteller his enchanted guitar. Inspired by this gift, Thomas forms Coyote Springs, an all-Indian Catholic band who find themselves on a magical tour that leads from reservation bars to Seattle and New York--and deep within their own souls.

Let Your Computer Take You There!

Interested in learning more about the environment? There’s no need to leave your home or office-- visit these great web sites for more info!


A “grassroots online community,” EnviroLink provides up-to-date environmental resources, including automated mailing lists, interactive bulletin boards, chat rooms, and “green” businesses.

International Rivers Network

IRN works to halt the construction of destructive river development projects that threaten many of the world’s rivers and riverine populations. Massive hydroelectric and similar projects represent an outdated approach to river management which limits public participation in defining river management objectives.

Sierra Club Human Rights Campaign

Ecological damage is a violation of human rights, especially “for indigenous peoples and the rural poor whose day to day survival depends directly upon what nature can produce.... The convergence of human rights and environmental abuse may indeed be a crossroad for the environmental movement. It provides the opportunity for two formidable activist coalitions, human rights advocates and environmentalists, to successfully pool their experience for a common purpose—protecting the environmental health of the planet by protecting the civil rights of its inhabitants.

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