Re-Setting Our Relationship with Rivers: The High Stakes of Personhood

Y Vega Cardenas & D Turp (2023) A Legal Personality for the St. Lawrence River and other Rivers of the World, Éditions JFD, Montreal, Canada

15 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2023

See all articles by Erin O'Donnell

Erin O'Donnell

University of Melbourne Law School

Date Written: March 21, 2021

Abstract

Rivers are beloved, but they are also facing urgent and growing threats from human-induced changes to the natural environment. Humans have developed long-standing, intimate relationships with rivers over time, but under Western (and particularly settler state) legal frameworks, rivers have been constructed in law as resources to be managed. In response to the need for a new relationship with rivers, rivers around world are being recognised as legal persons and/or living entities. However, granting rivers legal rights can change our relationship in unexpected ways: rivers can gain new legal powers, but the human response to these new powers can be complacency (an abdication of responsibility for river health) or fear (as we begin to wonder whether the rivers will now sue us for the damage we do them). This essay draws on example of riverine personhood from Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Bangladesh, Colombia, India and the USA to explore this potential paradox, and to highlight ways to resolve it.

Keywords: legal person, river, rights, Indigenous, relationship

Suggested Citation

O'Donnell, Erin, Re-Setting Our Relationship with Rivers: The High Stakes of Personhood (March 21, 2021). Y Vega Cardenas & D Turp (2023) A Legal Personality for the St. Lawrence River and other Rivers of the World, Éditions JFD, Montreal, Canada , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4395970 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4395970

Erin O'Donnell (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne Law School ( email )

Parkville, 3010
Australia

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