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

  • Andrew Ambers University of Victoria
Keywords: Indigenous governance, Indigenous legal orders, Indigenous rights, legal pluralism, rights of nature


Relationships with rivers in British Columbia are often imbued with social and material toxicity. Learning from three sources of law in British Columbia—Indigenous, Canadian, and international law—this article draws out one potential remedy to the imbalanced relationships between humans and rivers through exploring the viability of declaring the rights of nature in accordance with the socio-cultural and doctrinal frameworks embedded in these three sources of law. By taking seriously storied precedents and governing practices from the ‘Namgis, Heiltsuk, and W̱SÁNEĆ Nations, this article is guided by their water relations, governance, and legal orders. In expanding Canadian conceptions of personhood, challenging anthropocentrism within section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and expanding section 35 constitutional protections, this article also leverages Canadian legal concepts and protections for remedying river relations. Drawing upon the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) further guides the process of affirming the rights of rivers, especially in light of legislation that has codified UNDRIP domestically. Braiding these three sources of law indicates that subsequent rights of nature cases should be rooted in the interpretative and analytical framework of Canada’s multi-juridical living tree.


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Author Biography

Andrew Ambers, University of Victoria

BA (in progress)
Indigenous Studies Program and Department of Political Science
Areas of interest: colonial violence; Indigenous internationalisms; Indigenous property law; Indigenous rights; oceanic ethics; rights of nature


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