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Muteshekau-shipu, Canada

The Magpie River (Muteshekau-shipu in the Innu language) is located on Nitassinan, the ancestral territory of the Innu First Nation. This nearly 300 km long river is located in the province of Quebec, Canada, in an area called Minganie, where just over 6,000 people live.

It is the first territory in Canada to achieve Indigenous and Community Heritage Area (ICCA) status. This recognition was made possible thanks to the leadership of the Innu community of Ekuanitshit and its partners in the Muteshekau-shipu Alliance, which brings together the First Nations, the Regional County Municipality (RCM) of Minganie, a group of municipalities, as well as the Société pour la nature et les parcs (SNAP Québec), an environmental organization, and the Association Eaux-Vives Minganie, a local citizen group.

A natural jewel of international renown

Muteshekau-shipu is also the first river in Canada to have obtained legal personality, which grants the river nine rights on the basis of provincial, national and international legislation. This status came into force in 2021 via two resolutions adopted by the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and the MRC of Minganie. This initiative was carried out in collaboration with the International Observatory for the Rights of Nature, and earned the Alliance the 2022 Rights and Freedoms Award, awarded by the Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse du Québec.

Thanks to its exceptional rapids, the Magpie River is internationally renowned for whitewater sports such as rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. It has been ranked among the top ten in the world by the National Geographic magazine and can be found in several other lists.

The Magpie River watershed is virtually free of industrial activity and lies within Canada's beautiful boreal forest. Species at risk such as woodland caribou, golden eagle and barrow's goldeneye are found on this territory.

The Magpie River has been used since time immemorial by the Innu and is an important place for the practice of Innu aitun (the traditional way of life), the maintenance of Innu aimun (the Innu language) and the connection with Nutshimit and Nitassinan. Nutshimit means returning home, to our traditional home, in other words it means the forest, where our ancestors lived. Innu aitun is the Innu way of life, which includes many customs and traditions still alive today. Most Innus now live in homes in the community, but many return regularly to the Nutshimit for hunting, fishing, and gathering plants and berries, as well as other cultural practices that constitute Innu Aitun.

The partners of the Muteshekau-shipu Alliance have carried out colossal work in the last fifteen years to protect the river and its watershed: petitions, production of studies, presentations and conferences, political meetings, demonstrations, workshops, outings to the territory, etc. These actions led in 2021 to the recognition of the legal personality of the river and the attribution of nine rights, including that of going to court. This recognition is part of the international movement for the rights of nature.

Protection and enhancement

The vision of the Muteshekau-shipu Alliance for the Magpie River puts forward the protection of the river and its ecosystems, but also its enhancement through the Nitassinan of Ekuanitshit Guardians Program and recreational tourism activities such as expedition rafting.

These non-industrial activities will contribute to the diversification of the regional economy in the long term while preserving the natural and cultural values of the territory.

The river has not yet been designated as a protected area through national or sub-national laws and regulations. However, part of the river's watershed is protected through the proposed Biodiversity Reserve of the Belmont and Magpie Lake Massif. The designation as ICCA, as well as the legal personality of the river, contribute to the vision of the Ekuanitshit community and its partners: a natural, free-flowing river that contributes to the maintenance of biodiversity and the well-being of local communities.

This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in April 2023. The content was provided by the custodians of this ICCA. The ICCA has been self-declared and has not been through a peer-review process to verify its status. More details on this process can be found here. The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of UN Environment Programme or WCMC.