Quebec is the first Canadian province to join a global movement – particularly active in New Zealand, the U.S. and Ecuador – that recognizes the rights of nature and grants personhood to rivers.
Côte-Nord’s nearly 300-km long Magpie River, ranked among the 10 best rivers in the world for whitewater rafting, was granted legal personhood by the Muteshekau-shipu Alliance last month. Although there is technically no recognition in Canadian law, resolutions from the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and the Minganie Regional County Municipality grant the river nine rights in partnership with the International Observatory on the Rights of Nature in Montreal.
One of the resolutions says the river can be represented by “guardians” appointed by the regional municipality.
“The people closest to the river will be those watching over it from now on,” announced Jean-Charles Piétacho, chief of the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit, in a statement. “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.”
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Among the river’s nine rights: 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 lastly, 9) the right to sue.
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Quebec Chapter executive director Alain Branchaud said that calls to protect the Magpie River’s have “fallen on deaf ears” for a decade. Plans to declare the river a protected area failed due to the waterway’s hydroelectric potential for Hydro-Québec.
The new rights are expected to add protection for the Magpie River’s ecosystems and allow local communities to share and preserve recreational and traditional activities, said Luc Noël, prefect of the Minganie Regional County Municipality.
The Magpie River empties into the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River and is named for the Canada Jay. The Innu name Mutehekau Hipu translates as “river where the water passes between the square rocky cliffs.”
Internationally, New Zealand granted personhood to its Whanganui River in 2017.