Preview: The Nature of Things “I am the Magpie River” spotlights a waterway with personhood rights

Can nature have rights? That’s the question at the heart of Thursday’s new episode of The Nature of Things.

In “I am the Magpie River,” airing Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem, filmmaker Susan Fleming answers the question with a resounding yes. The 200-kilometre river, in the Côte-Nord region of Quebec, flows from the Labrador Plateau into the north shore of the St. Lawrence River near Sept-Îles, Quebec.

The waterway is sacred to the Innu First Nation, who call it Mutuhekau Shipu, and they’ve depended on it as a major highway and food source for centuries. And that’s why, as of 2021, the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and the Minganie Regional County Municipality had the river declared a legal person. The result? The river has nine rights, including the right to flow, to be free from pollution, and to sue.

Gorgeously filmed, with aerial drone shots capturing the rugged river in its savage glory through the seasons and up-close footage of the area’s unique flora and fauna (including herds of caribou), Fleming shows the awesome strength of the waterway during the spring melt. And it’s the power of the Magpie that Hydro Quebec—which is the fourth largest producer of hydropower on the planet—would love to have a piece of. And that’s the point of personhood: to protect the river from being changed, being taken advantage of, and being tamed.

The Magpie River may be the first in Canada to be granted personhood, but it is just the latest in many around the world. Indigenous-led campaigns like that done by the Innu in Canada have saved the Klamath River in the U.S., the Whanganui River in New Zealand, and the Amazon in Columbia.

The Nature of Things, “I am the Magpie River,” airs Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Image from “I am the Magpie River.