The 7th Generation Amendment


Imagine a world where clean air and clean water were protected for our children's children's children, seven generations from now.....


"The right of citizens of the United States to use and enjoy air, water, wildlife, 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".

Walt Bresette could imagine that.

Walter Bresette. A Red Cliff Chippewa, had that vision. In fact that vision was so strong in him that people were ready to put their collective shoulders to the wheels of power to push for that amendment.

Then Walter died.

Walter had a gift given to few who walk this earth. He had a way with words and he had a way with people. People loved to listen to Walter. He was a man filled with great love and great charisma. And he led in a good direction with simple thoughts for the good of the earth. For the good of the children of the earth. For the sake of humanity. Walter, years ago, started a movement and it moved in a circle and it brought the people together.

Now, those same people would like to carry on Walter's vision. Those same people would like to invite more people into the circle and move The Seventh Generation Amendment on into the future, to protect the earth.

Anishinaabe Niijii (Friend of the Chippewa), the organization that Walter founded, would like to invite your help in making this dream possible. It will take awhile. Walter knew that. Rome wasn't built in a day and seven generations of air and water won't be able to be protected overnight. Walter always said that it would not be in his lifetime that this would come about.

He was right.

But, maybe in our lifetime...... if we begin working together now.......WE can make it happen......for the future


"The right of citizens of the United States to use and enjoy air, water, wildlife, 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".

 Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, had a similar vision.

                            “The Common Property Amendment”

In the last 30 years, the United States has made impressive progress in
legislation and programs for environmental protection and conservation of
natural resources. Landmark acts of legislation passed since the late 1960s -- National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and others -- have stopped or reduced pollution and protected and restored habitat. All Americans should be proud of these accomplishments.

That is the good news. The bad news is that our edifice of environmental
legislation is built on a foundation of constitutional sand. Well-meaning
legislators, responding to the needs and desires of the people, have
stretched and twisted the Constitution of the United States to support
environmental legislation. These laws are not on solid ground. The
legislative accomplishments and the funding that implements them are
vulnerable to attack and reversal. What Congress does, Congress can undo.

Congress has passed environmental protection laws based on several indirect constitutional powers. Article I, Section 8 empowers Congress to "regulate Commerce ... among the several States". This power has been used to say, for instance, that water flows between states, so Congress can regulate water quality. Article I, Section 8 also gives Congress the power to spend money, so Congress may chose to spend money to build local sewage treatments plants. The President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, has the power to make treaties (Article II, Section 2), a power that has been used to protect migratory birds that cross international boundaries with Canada and Mexico. Lacking any specific prohibition in the Constitution, courts have generally acceded to the other branches in the interpretation of their constitutional powers.

Nowhere does the Constitution say that the federal government has a
responsibility to protect the environment or the public health and safety.
We have no explicit rights under the Constitution to a clean environment.

We propose not to change existing environmental legislation, but to "lift
up" the current body of laws and put a firm foundation under it -- to state
that indeed it is a responsibility of our federal government to protect the
environment, and that the people of the United States have a right to clean
air, clean water, and functioning ecosystems.

The key concept in the proposed amendment is not currently articulated in
the Constitution, that is common property, or the commons. Common property consists of those things that cannot by their nature be owned by an
individual or corporation. Whose air is it? Whose water flows down our
rivers and through the ground? It is all of ours; it is common property.
The wildlife, the functions of the ecosystem don't belong to anyone; they
are common property. What is common property? It includes air, water,
wildlife, and functioning ecosystems. Certain lands (such as national
parks, forests, and wildlife refuges) may also be included to protect the
plants and animals that live there or critical ecosystem functions.

The concept of common property counter-balances another concept that is
articulated in the Constitution, that of private property, but the amendment
will not take private property. Private ownership of land and other
property is fundamental to our society. Owners of private property should
be able to use it as they see fit, for their own enjoyment, for their own
gain. This is recognized in the Fifth Amendment, part of the Bill of
Rights, which recognizes that private property cannot be infringed upon,
cannot be "taken" for public purposes. The Fifth Amendment is the basis for a great deal of litigation and has been the basis of "takings" legislation,
which would restrict actions of the federal government in regulating the use
of private property.

We think that private property is rightfully protected under the Fifth
Amendment. However, some uses of private property have wrongfully infringed on other fundamental rights of all the people that are not adequately articulated under United States law. If someone is using the common property for private gain, with a result of fouling or depleting the
commons, that is a "taking" in reverse, a taking from all the people. This
concept needs to be enshrined in the our most fundamental law, the
Constitution, just as a taking of private property is prohibited by the
Fifth Amendment.

The current system of laws has spawned a great deal of litigation over the
questions of private property versus environmental regulation. One legal
scholar wrote that there is a "blurred and wavering line" between the rights
of a private property owner and the rights of the government to regulate the
use of private property for environmental protection. There are no
clear-cut answers. The U.S. Supreme Court has often decided such cases by a slim majority, first one way, then the other. As a result, private property
owners don't know what their rights are. Government regulators don't know
the extent of their powers and responsibilities. So they go to court to
fight it out. Our society has not reached a satisfactory conclusion on
these issues.

Defining and protecting common property in the Constitution would protect
the rights of all of us and our posterity, and would also benefit the
private property owner by drawing more sharply the "blurred and wavering
line" that protects private property from taking.

The priorities of the U.S. federal government include, of course, such
things as national defense. We think the priorities of the federal
government, and government in general, should include environmental
protection and conservation of natural resources. Former President Bill Clinton said in his 1996 State of the Union message: "The era of big government is over." There is heavy pressure now on all programs and activities of government to down-size, and to eliminate those activities that are not essential. Environmental protection and resource conservation should be recognized as proper roles of the federal government, and indeed, as a priority of the government.

When he ran for president, Bob Dole carried a card in his pocket with the
Tenth Amendment printed on it. The Tenth Amendment states that any powers that are not explicitly given to the federal government in the Constitution are reserved to the States and to the people. If the Tenth Amendment is closely followed, many things that the federal government is doing now would not be done, and we would move backwards in terms of federal programs to protect the environment and to conserve natural resources.

The Common Property Amendment would clearly identify environmental
protection as a priority of the federal government as called for by the
Tenth Amendment, would counterbalance the protection of private property
afforded by the Fifth Amendment, and would implement an important but
forgotten clause in the Preamble to the Constitution which says that one of
the purposes of the Constitution is to "secure the blessings of liberty to
ourselves and our posterity". What are the blessings of liberty? Don't
they include the freedom to breathe the air, to drink the water, and to
enjoy the blessings of functioning ecosystems? Don't we want to pass these blessings on to our posterity?

The framers of the Constitution were visionary in this respect, that they
did look ahead to future generations, to the Seventh Generation. They just
didn't get into all the details of defining what the blessings of liberty
mean. We propose to update the Constitution to define those blessings to
include the protection of our common property.

The proposed amendment reads as follows: "The right of citizens of the
United States to use and enjoy air, water, wildlife, 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

Certainly it is audacious and extremely ambitious to be proposing an
amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Constitutional
amendments don't happen very often. It takes 2/3 of both houses of Congress to approve an amendment, then it must be ratified by 3/4 of all the state legislatures, and in many cases a time limit has been placed on the ratification period. This is not an easy process, and will take a
tremendous amount of public support. It is a major undertaking.

Amendments to the Constitution are rare. There have been 27 amendments in the history of our country. Ten of those were the Bill or Rights, ratified
in 1791, which can be considered almost as part of the original
Constitution. (Several of the states would not have ratified the original
Constitution if they had not been assured of passage of the Bill of Rights.)
Of the 17 other amendments, 6 deal with government operations, (such as
presidential succession), 5 deal with voting rights, and 2 deal with
prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Very few amendments deal with
fundamental rights of the American people.

So it would be an extreme rarity in the history of our country if this
amendment were to be approved. Under the best of circumstances, we expect a long process of consideration. Even if the proposed amendment is as good as some people think it is, we expect a 20 to 25 year struggle before it could possibly be put into effect.

Yet this is the time to do it. We are in an era of change. A generational
change is occurring in the United States. Historians William Strauss and
Neil Howe suggest that generational types have recurred in this country in a
four-generation cycle since the first European colonists. According to
their theory of generational cycles, we are starting to raise a generation
of builders and doers, children who are now being born or are in grade
school or middle school. The parents of that "millennial" generation are
the baby boomers, who tend not be builders, but to be idealistic, people of
ideas. Now we have a generation of young people, 15 years old and younger, who are of the type that won World War II and the Revolutionary War. This is a generation that will do great things, and the idealistic baby boomers will be the ones who give them ideas, who set great tasks before them for the younger generation to accomplish.

One of those tasks is to finish the job that we started in the 1960s and
1970s to protect the environment, to conserve resources, and to restore
habitat. If we can lay out a great task for the millennial generation, they
will take that task and finish it. This is why the timing is right for this
proposal now.

The idea also provides a rallying point for environmentally concerned
citizens. We are fighting many battles over mining, wetlands, forests,
non-point source pollution, and so on, and the environmental movement can get fragmented at times. These day to day battles are very important, and
we must keep fighting them all the time, but the amendment would provide a longer term goal, a flag to rally around, that might be very helpful to the
environmental movement.

On the other hand, the amendment should not be considered as strictly an
environmental issue. Ideally the proposal would also be embraced by the
people who are concerned about the rights of owners of private property. It
would provide some certainty, greater security and freedom to private
property owners, who would know more clearly the extent of their rights. If
the amendment is going to be successful, it will take very broad support,
not just from people who call themselves environmentalists.

Presented by:
Tom Busiahn & Robin Goree

To help grow this vision and bring about clean air and water and land for our children's, children's, children....share this web site with others...for the future....for the earth.


For further ideas about the "Seventh Generation Amendment" commonly called

 "The Common Property Amendment"

read David Orr's wonderful article in Orion Magazine

excerpted below...

THIS IS A DAUNTING TIME. We are rather like the lost traveler told that "you can't get there from here." But I do not think we are as stuck as the situation may suggest. The changes that we must make are resonant with much of our history, best values, and notions of common sense. Those standards require that we act conservatively in cases where the risks of widespread, severe, and irreversible harm are high -- or simply unknown. Precaution is as commonplace in daily affairs as it seems to be radical in the realm of public policy. As individuals we buy insurance, undergo annual physical exams, and wear seatbelts, which is to say that we exercise caution for reasons so obvious as to require no explanation. In medicine, the principle of precaution is embodied in the promise of the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm." In public policy, we must come to acknowledge a comparable logic in situations in which the risks may be catastrophic and our ignorance far exceeds our knowledge. It is one thing for individuals to incur risks to themselves, and another thing entirely for some few to risk the welfare of the many, including those who have no say in the matter. The present situation privileges the rights of an elite that cannot be held accountable if and when things turn out badly. As things stand, the benefits of risk are, in effect, privatized, while the consequences are externalized -- to the detriment of the planet and its future inhabitants -- which, by any decent reckoning, is unfair.

Given the lackluster results produced by thirty years of environmental legislation, I believe the time is ripe for bold action to head off the worst of what may lie ahead, beginning with a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to a healthy environment. If not now, when? Public awareness of the scale, scope, and duration of the ecological crisis has grown considerably since the last such attempt was made in 1970. Would such an initiative be controversial? Certainly, but less so than one might fear. Let those who oppose the people's rights to clean air, clean water, open space, and healthy ecosystems stand up and say so. Let them say publicly that our grandchildren have no right to a decent environment. When they do, they will lose. Opinion surveys over three decades consistently show a large majority in favor of environmental quality, clear air, limits to sprawl, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and controls on pollution. We do not lack for common ground, but rather the kind of leadership that is capable of articulating the values that unite us.

The effort to establish and pass a constitutional amendment would have salutary effects. It would focus what is now a scattered debate on the essentials of our relationship to our children, and to theirs. It would end several decades of stalemate on environmental policy. It would exert a steady gravitational pull toward a reconciliation of human interests and ecological realities, just as the civil rights legislation of 1964 and 1965 pulled the nation toward a full execution of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments. The legal acknowledgement of our rights to a healthy environment, now and for those yet to live, would clarify necessary changes in policy having to do with taxes, prices, public expenditures, the proper control of corporations, and the uses of technology.

The U.S. Constitution is not just words on paper. It is an evolving document. In Bruce Ledewitz's words, it "need not be interpreted to stand mute while the environment and the interests of the future are sacrificed." It is time for our understanding and refining of that document to be reconciled with our knowledge of natural systems and our growing awareness of obligations and rights that extend broadly throughout the community of life and outward in time as far as the mind dares to imagine.