The recognition of the 300km Muteshekau-shipu, or Magpie River, as a non-human person makes it Canada’s first river to be granted legal rights as part of global ‘personhood’ movement.
River granted official rights and legal personhood in Canada
Last month, the Alliance for the Protection of the Magpie River — Muteshekau Shipu, in Innu — in partnership with the International Observatory for the Rights of Nature, announced the recognition of the legal personality and rights to this majestic river. This declaration aligns itself within the ecocentric current that considers that Man is no longer the "master" of Nature, but a species among others. It implies the recognition of values and an intrinsic dignity to the Magpie River, as it becomes a subject of law.
The initiative is part of a global movement to recognise the rights of Nature
Through the adoption of two parallel resolutions by the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and the Minganie Regional County Municipality (RCM), the river is henceforth assigned nine rights, as well as potential legal guardians responsible primarily for ensuring that these rights are respected. This is the first such case in Canada.
The (23 February, 2021) announcement was made in partnership with the International Observatory on the Rights of Nature (IORN), based in Montreal, Canada, which drafted the resolutions in collaboration with the Alliance. The two resolutions, more than ten pages each and crammed with references, rest on multiple legal bases in national and international law and will help protect the river.
The initiative is part of a global movement – particularly active in New Zealand, the United States and Ecuador – to recognise the rights of Nature.
The Magpie River (Muteshekau-shipu in the Innu language) is an internationally renowned river nearly 300 km long. The river is recognised worldwide for its rapids and for whitewater expeditions, most notably by the prestigious National Geographic magazine, which ranked it among the top ten rivers in the world for whitewater rafting.
The river’s protection has received regional consensus, but the plan to declare the river a protected area has been thwarted for years by state-owned Hydro-Québec, due to the waterway’s hydroelectric potential.
The goal of the Muteshekau-shipu Alliance is to protect and enhance the Magpie River
"The recognition of the rights of Nature is a growing global movement, and Canada is joining it today with this first case," said Yenny Vega Cardenas, president of the IORN. "The Magpie River represented a perfect test case, thanks to the consensus for its protection from the actors involved and its international reputation."
"The people closest to the river will be those watching over it from now on," said Jean-Charles Piétacho, chief of the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit. "The Innu of Ekuanitshit have always been the protectors of the Nitassinan [ancestral territory] and will continue to be so through the recognition of the rights of the Muteshekau-shipu river."
"This recognition will promote the protection of the Magpie River’s ecosystems and allow our local communities to share and preserve their recreational and traditional activities," said Luc Noël, prefect of the Minganie RCM.
"This is a way for us to take matters into our own hands and stop waiting for the Quebec government to protect this unique river," explained Alain Branchaud, Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Quebec Chapter (CPAWS Quebec). "After a decade of our message falling on deaf ears in government, the Magpie River is now protected as a legal person."
The goal of the Muteshekau-shipu Alliance is to protect and enhance the Magpie River and to recognise its rights. To do so, it is relying on the importance of the river to the Innu and local communities, and on the river’s international reputation and immense recreational and tourism potential.
The founding members of the Muteshekau-shipu Alliance are the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit, the Minganie RCM, CPAWS Quebec and the Association Eaux-Vives Minganie.
Recognition of the Magpie/Muteshekau Shipu River as a non-human Person
For the first time in Canada, the Magpie River has been attributed—through two mirror resolutions, one by the Regional County Municipality of Minganie and the other by the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit—nine rights:
- The right to live, exist and flow
- the right to respect its natural cycles
- the right to evolve naturally, to be preserved and to be protected
- the right to maintain its natural biodiversity
- the right to maintain its integrity
- the right to perform essential functions within its ecosystem
- the right to be protected from pollution
- the right to regeneration and restoration
- the right to take legal action.
River guardians with specific and detailed duties will soon be appointed to ensure the protection of the rights of the MagPie/Muteshekau Shipu River.
This declaration is part of a global paradigm shift that proposes a major transformation in the categories of "object" and "subject", making Nature a holder of the right to be protected, as opposed to an object of protection.
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