First nations in Quebec and Labrador recognize the rights of the St. Lawrence River
The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) unanimously adopted a resolution to confer legal personhood to the St. Lawrence River. The official announcement was made on April 24th at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York.
To commemorate International Mother Earth Day on Monday, the UN General Assembly held the 12th Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature,* which aimed to recognize Earth as a living system with rights.
In his speech before representatives of UN member states and global actors from civil society and the scientific community, as well as Indigenous representatives, AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard said that granting rights to nature, including the St. Lawrence River, is important because human rights are dependent on it.
If we want human rights to be respected, we must respect the rights of Mother Earth.
In an interview with Radio Canada International (RCI), Picard said that the AFNQL is keeping a close eye on the work being done to confer legal personhood to natural elements, including the Gatineau River, the Magpie River and now the St. Lawrence River. Member nations of the AFNQL felt it was essential to add their voice to the conversation.Chief Picard also pointed out that bills to confer legal personhood to the St. Lawrence River were tabled in Ottawa and Quebec City in 2022.
However, they will likely remain dormant for now, he said.
The gesture was made, but there hasn’t really been any follow-through. By adding our voice to that of other groups, we may bring more weight to the process and encourage—not force—governments to take more concrete action
On May 5, 2022, Émilie Lessard-Therrien, former Quebec Solidaire MNA in Quebec City, and Alexandre Boulerice, MP and deputy leader of the New Democratic Party in Ottawa, simultaneously presented their respective legislative initiatives to the National Assembly and the House of Commons, at the request of the International Observatory on the Rights of Nature and the St. Lawrence Alliance.
The AFNQL Chief also explained that the First Nations could have conferred legal personhood to the St. Lawrence River of their own accord.However, they preferred to take a constructive approach, which is why the leaders agreed to draft a resolution and present it officially during the 12th Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature.
Efforts with a connection to Montreal
Picard’s presentation to UN member states and other partners participating in the Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature is part of a global movement that began in 2008 when Ecuador recognized the rights of Mother Earth, or Pachamama, in its constitution.
This idea has been gaining momentum ever since, but it took a historic turn last December at the end of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal.
The final document presented at the conference, called the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, recognized for the first time in the history of these global conferences the rights of nature and the rights of Mother Earth as essential to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework.
Working towards an Earth Assembly
At the 12th Interactive Dialogue of the UN General Assembly, the majority of state and government representatives, global actors from civil society and the scientific community, and Indigenous peoples called for a new, non-anthropocentric, Earth-centred paradigm, to be discussed at a high-level meeting, tentatively called the Earth Assembly, on April 22, 2024.
This international meeting will aim for all nations of the world to recognize that nature and humanity are equal partners and will aim to draft a universal declaration of Mother Earth’s rights.
Canadian independent Senator Rosa Galvez, who will soon introduce a bill in Senate to confer legal personhood to the St. Lawrence River, feels that humanity is at a crossroads and an ecocentric vision for the planet is long overdue.
In an interview with RCI, Galvez pointed out that advocating for the rights of the St. Lawrence isn’t a first in the world or in Quebec.
We’ve already seen it in India, New Zealand, and Colombia. In Quebec, we have the Magpie River, she said. A geo-environmental engineer by training, she explained that the St. Lawrence River is extremely important to Quebecers and that they have an emotional attachment to it.
It’s the most important artery for any activity in Quebec, as well as in Ontario, as the river connects up with the Great Lakes, she said.
However, Galvez pointed out that while the Great Lakes Basin is one of the largest economic regions in Canada, it has generated pollution and caused problems stemming from the use of the St. Lawrence River’s resources.
That’s why we need to take action to protect it by granting it legal personhood, she said.
She believes that the benefits of preserving the St. Lawrence River by granting it legal personhood outweigh any costs that the change in status might generate.
*The capitalization of the word Nature was recognized and incorporated into the 29th paragraph of the preamble of General Assembly Resolution 73/235, and in previous reports of the Secretary-General on Harmony with Nature (see A/74/236 and A/75/266).
Note: This report is also available in Spanish.