Quebec’s Magpie River has become the first in Canada to be granted legal personhood, the Muteshekau-shipu Alliance has announced.
The legal personhood of the Magpie River was granted by the local municipality of Minganie and the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit, members of the the Muteshekau-shipu Alliance which also includes several environmental groups.
The Muteshekau-shipu Alliance has granted the river nine rights in accordance with Innu customs and practices. These include: 1) the right to flow; 2) the right to respect for its cycles; 3) the right for its natural evolution to be protected and preserved; 4) the right to maintain its natural biodiversity; 5) the right to fulfil its essential functions within its ecosystem; 6) the right to maintain its integrity; 7) the right to be safe from pollution; 8) the right to regenerate and be restored; and perhaps most importantly, 9) the right to sue.
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. National Geographic magazine ranked the Magpie River among the top ten rivers in the world for whitewater rafting.
Jean-Charles Piétacho, chief of the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit, said: “The people closest to the river will be those watching over it from now on. 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.”
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 Muteshekau-shipu Alliance hope international precedents set in New Zealand, Ecuador and several other countries will help pressure the Quebec government to formally protect the river.
It is unclear how the legal personhood status of the Magpie River will affect attempts to build developments on the river, including dams, moving forward, as legal personhood for nature doesn’t exist in Canadian law and could be challenged in court.
Alain Branchaud, Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said: “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. After a decade of our message falling on deaf ears in government, the Magpie River is now protected as a legal person.”
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.