Is a River Is a Person?

I live on the banks of one of the largest hydrologic systems in the world. Kaniatarowanenneh, better known as the St. Lawrence River is about 756 miles long, connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, and is responsible for draining more than a quarter of the Earth’s freshwater reserves. Isn’t that incredible? I think so.

Sadly, it’s also been overfished and undervalued. There has been decades and decades of industrial activity on the shoreline, pollution from commercial vessels, and oil spills from underwater transport lines. A few years ago, McGill University researchers also reported microplastic pollution levels in the St. Lawrence River to be on par with the most contaminated ocean sediment samples. 

That’s really sad. And alarming. And infuriating.

Earlier this year, I read that the Muteshekau-shipu (also known as the Magpie River) in northeastern Quebec was granted legal personhood—a first in Canada. This follows the designations of the Whanganui River in New Zealand, the Ganges River and its tributary, Yamuna, in India, the Klamath River in Northern California, and ALL rivers in Bangladesh, to name but a few.

These massive moves to grant real rights to rivers are incredible and hopeful. It shapes how we view and value rivers as living ecosystems that connect water, land, forests, and people. It takes us away from the usual “What do we want FROM the river” mindset and takes us to a place where we ask “What do we want FOR our river?”

I’m hoping the mighty St. Lawrence is one day (soon!) granted legal personhood too so there is real action taken against those who pollute it with plastics and other harmful crud.

In the meantime, I’m playing my part in protecting the river by curbing my plastic use. And I know other people—you!—are too.

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Long live our rivers!

Chantal and the whole crew at etee

sustainable zero waste

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