Episode 10 of the Lake Winnipeg podcast series

Lorraine Land is an aboriginal lawyer who works with First Nations across Canada. She spends a lot of time on land issues and of course that extends into the practical details of safe guarding nature and what it means to act as an environmental steward.

Because of that she has a lot of front line experience digging into the weeds of what it means to live in harmony with nature rather than in opposition. But she’s also thought about this is the wider sense. Does every resource development or treaty or land protection issue always start and end in the specific. Or are there principals and broader concepts that could make things better, cut through the fog and perhaps even speed up negotiations?

There might be. There’s a new development in the environmental law field about a concept called Earth Jurisprudence or the rights of nature. The idea is about granting aspects of nature legal standing or making them ‘persons’ in the legal sense. Now that might seem strange. It’s hard to imagine a tree turning top in court to argue that a logging company shouldn’t cut it down.

But a corporation can go to court to argue that someone broke a contract or used their trademark without permission. Now a corporation can only turn up in court… or have legal standing… because as a society we have granted personhood to corporations. As a result, in many ways a company can act as a person and have real people speak and act on its behalf.

Corporations have been persons long enough that most of us don’t even think about the strangeness of it. But it is an act of the imagination and a collective agreement that allows an inanimate thing to become a person.

So is it any different that some are pushing for aspects of nature to be granted personhood? It’s happened in New Zealand with Whanganui River. More than a decade ago Ecuador and Bolivia legally recognized the rights of Mother Earth. Columbia gave legal personhood to the Atrato River in 2017 and the next year extended that to the Amazon. In one area of the northern United States wild rice has been granted legal standing. In India the Ganges River was declared a “living entity” three years ago.

Here in Canada some are pushing for bison to be declared persons… and we’ll speak with one of those advocates next week.

But in this episode we’re talking with Lorraine Land to help us better understand what earth jurisprudence actually means. How would that change things in this country?  And, of course, since this is part of the Lake Winnipeg series on Dispatches, we’ll be looking at this through the lens of what it might means if the lake was recognized as a person. Would it do anything to improve the health of the lake?  Let’s find out.