The Magpie river, situated in the Cote Nord region of the Canadian province of Quebec, is a 300km stretch of water that has become the first river in Canada to be given the designation of a “legal person”. The indigenous community of Ekuanitshit had a major role to play in the grant of this designation.
The community hopes that the grant of this designation gives additional tools to them to defend the river, known as “Muteshekau Shipu” in the Innu language, from potential environmental harms.
In a phone interview that Al Jazeera conducted with the chief of the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit, Jean-Charles Pietacho had this to say: “The Creator put us on this piece of territory called Nitassinan, which encompasses all these rivers, all these mountains, all these trees. The Innu people always believed that you had to protect the earth. It’s water – it’s life.”
The reason why the community pushed for the designation is to safeguard the river from further developmental projects. Known for its strong rapids, the Magpie River currently has one hydroelectric dam on it, and although the provincial energy authority had said that it had no further plans for development, it did not provide a sense of security to the community.
Pietacho said, “It’s very, very important for us to have arrived at this protection. It might be tested, but at least we have a majority – if not the entire region – that supports us.”
The designation was granted through twin resolutions adopted by the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and a local body, the Minganie Regional County Municipality, but it remains rather unclear whether the designation would be recognised by a Canadian court.