The River’s Legal Personality: A Branch Growing on Canada’s Multi-Juridical Living Tree?




Ambers, Andrew

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Relationships with rivers in British Columbia are imbued with social and material toxicity. Learning from the three legal systems British Columbians live with, Canadian, Indigenous, and international law, this paper offers a potential remedy to these imbalanced relationships by declaring the rights of nature in accordance with each system’s socio-cultural and doctrinal frameworks. Cross-cultural and inter-legal discussions guide the ontological multiplicities that cultivate the emergence and declaration of rivers’ legal personalities. Taking seriously storied precedents within Indigenous legal systems as modes of reasoning, learning from the ‘Namgis, Heiltsuk, and W̱SÁNEĆ Nations offers lessons for water relations. In expanding Canadian conceptions of personhood, challenging anthropocentrism within section 7 of the Charter, and working within but expanding section 35 constitutional protections, this discussion also accounts for the strategic use of Canadian legal concepts and protections for river relations. Drawing upon the international political and legal sphere, namely the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, helps advance rivers’ legal personalities. Braiding these three legal systems makes transparent the need for a reorientation in how we understand the rights of nature, namely through understanding and framing subsequent rights of nature developments through the prism of the multi-juridical living tree.



Coastal ontologies, Indigenous legal orders, Indigenous rights, legal pluralism, rights of nature