Why lakes and rivers should have the same rights as humans | Kelsey Leonard


Aquay Wunne Kesuk.
Kelsey Leonard Nooweesuonk. Hello, good day, everyone. I’m from the Shinnecock Nation. Tabutni to the Cahuilla peoples, whose land we gather on today. I was taught that water is alive. It can hear, it holds memories. And so I brought a water vessel
up with me today, because I want it to hold the memories
of our conversation today. Who gets legal rights? History has shown us
some people but not others. In the United States,
Indigenous peoples like myself were not citizens
under the law until 1924. My Shinnecock ancestors, pictured here, were not citizens under the law. Then why do we claim to be nations
governed by the rule of law if some people are protected,
but not others? Because it remains one
of the best ways to fight injustice. And, as Indigenous people,
we know injustice. A dear friend, mentor, water walker, Nokomis, Grandmother
Josephine Mandamin-ba, she told me of a prophecy
that comes from her people, the Anishinaabe of the Midewiwin Society. And in that prophecy, she told me that it tells
of a day that will come where an ounce of water
costs more than an ounce of gold. When she told me that prophecy,
I sat for a moment, and I thought about all of the injustices
we see in our world today, the water crises we see
in our world today, and I said, “Nokomis, Grandmother, I feel like we are already
in that time of prophecy.” And she looked back at me directly, and she said, “So what are you going to do about it?” That’s why I’m here with you today, because I believe
that one of the many solutions to solving the many water injustices
we see in our world today is recognizing that water
is a living relation and granting it the legal
personhood it deserves. So to do so, we need to transform
the way in which we value water. We have to start to think
about how do we connect to water. Usually, someone might ask you, “What is water?” and you would respond
with “Rain, ocean, lake, river, H20, liquid.” You might even understand
the sacred essentiality of water and say that water is life. But what if I asked you, instead, “Who is water?” In the same way that I might ask you,
“Who is your grandmother?” “Who is your sister?” That type of orientation fundamentally transforms the way
in which we think about water, transforms the way
in which we make decisions about how we might protect water, protect it in the way that you
would protect your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your aunties. That is the type of transformation that we need if we are going to address
the many water crises we see in our world today, these harrowing water crises that have streamed
across our digital devices in countdowns to Day Zero, the point at which municipal
water supplies are shut off. Places like Cape Town, South Africa, where in 2018, residents were limited
to two-minute showers and 23 gallons of water
per day per person, or just this past summer,
where the mismanagement of water led the streets of Chennai to be lined with thousands
of plastic water jugs as residents waited hours
for water tankers to deliver water,
first by rail, then by truck, to meet their daily needs. Or even here in the United States, one of the most developed
nations in the world. Today, Flint, Michigan
still does not have clean water. But you are likely unfamiliar
with these water crises, such as Neskantaga First Nation
in Northern Ontario, Canada, where residents have been
on a boil water advisory since 1995. Or Grassy Narrows First Nation, which for decades has been dealing
with water contamination from the paper mill industry and where a recent study found that nearly 90 percent
of the Indigenous population has some form of mercury poisoning, causing severe health complications. Or even among the Navajo Nation. Pictured here is the Animas River
on an early morning in 2015, prior to the Gold King Mine spill. After the spill leaked millions
of hazardous mine waste into the river system, this was it later that day. Today, the Navajo Nation
and the Diné People and the river itself are still
trying to recover from contamination. Or even right here
in Palm Springs, California, where the Agua Caliente Band
of Cahuilla Indians has been fighting for decades
to protect groundwater from exploitation so that future generations can not only live but thrive
in their homelands, as they have since time immemorial. You see, a recent study
by DIGDEEP and the US Water Alliance found that race, in the United States, is the strongest predictor
of water and sanitation access, and that for us, as Native American people, we are the group most likely
to have access issues as it comes to water and sanitation. So, as an Indigenous
legal scholar and scientist, I believe that many
of these water injustices are the result of the Western
legal system’s failure to recognize the legal personhood of water. And so we must ask ourselves — who is justice for? Humanity alone? We’ve granted legal personhood
to corporations. In the US, the Supreme Court
found in “Citizens United” that a corporation was a person with similar protections
under the Constitution, such as freedom of speech, and applied similar reasoning
in “Hobby Lobby,” finding that a corporation
had the right to freedom of religion in defense against the implementation
of the Affordable Care Act for its employees. Now, these are controversial cases, and as a Shinnecock woman
and a legal scholar, they make me question
the moral compass of the Western world, where you can grant legal
personhood to a corporation but not nature. You see, legal personhood
grants us the ability to be visible in a court of law, and to have our voices heard
as a person protected under the law. And so if you can grant that
to a corporation, why not the Great Lakes? Why not the Mississippi River? Why not the many waterways
across our planet that we all depend on to survive? We know we are in a global climate crisis, but globally, our waters
are also threatened, and we are facing a global water crisis, and if we want to address
these crises in our lifetime, we need to change. We need to fundamentally transform
the way in which we value water. And this is not something new
for us as Indigenous peoples. Our Indigenous legal systems
have a foundational principle of understanding our nonhuman relations as being living and protected
under our laws. And even for the Western world, environmental legal theorists have argued for the rights of nature
since the 1970s. But we need to do better. We need to change. And we need to grant
legal personhood to water, because it affords the following
rights and protections. It grants water the right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve, and most of all,
it protects the water from us, from human beings that would do it harm, from human-caused climate-change impacts, from pollutants, and from man-made contamination. Moreover, it reverses
the accepted hierarchy of humanity’s domination over nature. As human beings on this planet, we are not superior
to other beings on this planet. We are not superior to the water itself. We have to learn
how to be good stewards again. We often imagine that the world
is filled with infinite water. In fact, it’s not. This planet, Ohke, Mother Earth, has very finite freshwater resources. Currently, nearly two billion people live in countries experiencing
high water stress. It is also estimated that by 2030, up to 700 million people
could be displaced, worldwide, due to water scarcity. We have to address this crisis. And so it’s time for us to change. We have to transform
the way in which we value water. And we can do that. We can learn to be good stewards again. We can create laws through which
we grant legal personhood to water. We can start to honor
the original treaties between Indigenous peoples
and non-Indigenous peoples for water protection. We can appoint guardians for the water that ensure the water’s rights
are always protected. We can also develop
water-quality standards that have a holistic approach, that ensure the well-being of the water
before our human needs. And moreover, we can work to dismantle
exclusive property ownership over water. And there are amazing successful examples
of this around the world. The Whanganui River in Aotearoa,
in New Zealand, and the Ganges River in India were both granted
legal personhood in 2017. And even this year, the residents of the city of Toledo recognized the legal
personality of Lake Erie. And right here in California, the Yurok Tribe granted legal personhood
to the Klamath River. You see, I imagine a world
where we value water as a living relation, where we work to restore
our connection to water. As women, we are water carriers. We nurture water
in our wombs for nine months. It’s the first medicine
that each of us as human beings is exposed to. See, we are all born as human beings
with a natal connection to water, but somewhere along the way,
we lost that connection, and we have to work to restore it. Because I imagine a world in which water is healthy
and ecosystems are thriving. I imagine a world where each of us takes up
our right of responsibility as water citizens and protects water. So, in the words of Nokomis, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do for the water? Well, you can call your local politician. You can go to a town meeting. You can advocate for granting
legal personhood to water. You can be like the residents
of the city of Toledo and build from the grass roots, and craft your own legislation
if the politicians won’t write it, recognizing legal personality of water. You can learn about the Indigenous lands
and waters that you now occupy and the Indigenous legal systems
that still govern them. And most of all, you can connect to water. You can restore that connection. Go to the water closest to your home, and find out why it is threatened. But most of all, if you do anything, I ask that you make a promise to yourself, that each day, you will ask, “What have I done for the water today?” If we are able to fulfill that promise, I believe we can create a bold
and brilliant world where future generations are able to form the same relationship to water
that we have been privileged to have, where all communities
of human and nonhuman relations have water to live, because water is life. Tabutni. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Why lakes and rivers should have the same rights as humans | Kelsey Leonard

  1. So can we Sue the water for freezing and throwing my car into the guardrail ? Or when it invaded our town and destroyed our homes? If it has rights, it also has to own the responsibilities too.

  2. If corporations are legally considered people then lakes and rivers should be too, it'll help protect them

  3. I'm gonna go to a lake and get a plastic straw and drink the water if it's clear. Anyone in🙋‍♂️

  4. Nobody should own the water. Water is our source of life.
    Water bodies (rivers, lakes, underground water) should be protected against toxic pollution.
    We take it for grated but soon if the current level of pollution is not reduces we can say good by to our life on planet Earth.
    We multiplied like rats, consume everything like rats and we will disappear in in the history of Earth like a bunch of rats, unless with smarten up.

  5. 23 gallons of water per person per day is a water crisis? Damn how much water do you use?

  6. 1:40 There is the equivalent of two Olympic pools of Gold (mined) on earth, water would only become more expensive than Gold when there will be more Gold than water i.e less than two Olympic pools of water on earth. Yeah if an asteroid hits earth and wipe it out, it will eventually happen.

  7. Lady we're still working to make sure humans have equal rights. Don't be throwing in more variables.

  8. THAT's my FAVORIT subject!!!
    😘 – THANK YOU!!! 💗
    And it is a linguistic subject too – I think.. – we have a.. notion (in Russian for ex.) – 'Living' and 'inanimate' (/'un-living'.. ) Nature… – when it is a nonsense: all Nature can be only 'living'..
    So, all the living 'things' – (it is also a wrong expression(( – not 'things', but… 'essencies' .. /'entities' .. – 'natures'.. – Should have equal rights for defence of their existence and.. a well-being .. ✌️💗🌞🌈🌊🌱💚💕🙏

  9. Yeah, my Italian Grandmother used to say it was bad luck to open an umbrella in the house, when I got a pimple, she said "it was the devil coming out of me", she believed her spaghetti sauce was the cure for all that ails you, and we all sung the trope "step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back" when skipping down the sidewalk to school. . . . luckily, for me anyway, I knew she was just being a superstitious whimsical Grandmother – I guess no one told this lady her Grandparents were just telling her tales and whimsey. I hope she gets the help she needs.

  10. The Supreme Court cert petition pictured at 5:42 was denied. See https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=/docket/docketfiles/html/public/17-40.html

  11. Not a surprise, most of the idiots in the comments didn't get past the beginning of the video

  12. Look, I'm not opposed to granting bodies of water personhood for LEGAL reasons since most courts of law are designed to protect persons. If that's the direction the talker is coming from then I'm all ears. But if someone comes at me with prophecies and "oh water has memories" then I'm going to treat them like I treat any evangelical nut screaming at me about day-old embryos.

  13. You have the right to be silent!! Public streaming in an urban zone. Anything you flow will be oared against you in the wet of law.

  14. Water, a living relation, yes… "Personhood", absolutely NOT… Every creature upon the face of the earth is 100% dependant on water and the consumption of water. We can endure for weeks, months on very little food. Each and every creation of our Father, our Creator is entirely dependent on water.
    Absolutely protect it… Even with our lives but "personhood" no. It is NOT a person. It has life true. It has visual changes under a microscope when water is prayed over… Water IS our life. Honor it, give thanks to our Creator for it but it is for our use and consumption not to be given legal status over our ability to collect it and utilize it for OUR benefit. It grows our food, it keeps us alive, it is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING for us to live second only to our Creator and Messiah. Respect it cherish it but 'personhood' never…

  15. More far left extremist garbage which values animals, plants and now, rivers more than humans who are made in God's image.

  16. This is just not right. This "study" takes totally different areas, where populaton is 98% hispanic/latino(50% poverty rate) and compares it with 97% white population(20% poverty rate) with totally different infrastructure and different geolocations and then claims that race is the factor? How in common sense was this the conclusion of this study???

  17. I would like to see filtration plants company's private or commercial or federal make sentation a federal law like it is but to put the water back in these natural Rivers already filtrated to make sure I water is being purified 24 hours a day seven days a week+ 366 days a year that way we know water is being purified all the time and not just for consumption

  18. no. oxygen is life. you suffocate a looooo0o0o0o0o0o0o0oo0oootttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt sooner than you dehydrate.

  19. Just so we can put things in perspective…

    Slavery is still a thing in certain countries.

  20. 💓🌍Water and Crude oil ! All plants and human water drink.But All plants energy or food is crude oil.we make All artificial items,makes in crude oil like a paints, petroleum,mobil oil, gasoline, colours,rubers plastics,uria, medicine,99% everynaturallthings in world and earth makes us with crude oil.
    But now need us crude oil use in only for earth Nature .now Earth life is only 80% alive.globle warming warning is big issue for us. We remove all blood of Earth is like this 🔥⚫
    Wheneven other planets making complete his Natural proses eventhrow we all need us crude oil save for our earth Nature naturels plants only.please please save and dont removers crude oil.stop production 🚫⁦🛢️⁩⌛

  21. Going to go piss into a lake today, is that sexual assault? I swear to God I used to love these TED talks, but now over the past couple of years with the sjw infestation they've become so goddamn cringe I want to slice my eyeballs out

  22. When we gave Corporations the same protections as humans, how is this working out for us ?

  23. It is also good to remember, that we ourselves up to 80% – are the Water 💦 – quite personified ✌️
    My most severe concerns are about the water we use in the engineering systems: like water supply or sanitary sewer systems… – we use for big and Very big cities.. and other technical and manufactoring use…
    In this aspect it all seems like a criminal violence and a.. Slavery… 😒… – What shell we do about that.. – 7,7 mlrd. of people on the Globe.. 🌍…

  24. I'm all for water conservation and protection, I think we need to do better, but "stories" like this do more harm than good. Typical liberal rhetoric that the right uses to not care at all. Everyone loses.

  25. Unbelievable, more left wing ideas that are intended to cause harm to human beings – in this case, by restricting our ability to impact the planet.

    Political rights are a moral concept. They bridge the gap between morality and political philosophy. The reason why human beings require political rights and animals, plants and inanimate objects do not is because humans are the rational animal – the conceptual animal. Every living organism has a means of survival. Bears have claws and fangs, birds have wings and beaks, fish have fins and gills, humans have *reason*.

    Our ability to reason i.e. to form concepts, abstractions, evaluations, judgements, conclusions and inferences about the world that we inhabit is our basic means of survival. It is reason which allowed us to produce the tools that we needed to hunt animals. It was reason that was responsible for our ability to understand how to create fire and the wheel. It was reason that was responsible for the agricultural revolution. It our ability to reason that produces clothes, shelter, medicine, technology, and which put man on the moon.

    Reason however does not operate automatically. It requires focus and mental effort from the individual using it. The enemy of Reason is *force*. Force inhibits our ability to think. Whether it's direct force such as someone pointing a gun at you and demanding something from you, or someone stealing your money by fraud. Force, whether direct or indirect, suppresses and inhibits your ability to think and act rationally – on your own judgement. Therefore humans must be free from force in order to know and understand the world and pursue the values that we need to further our lives.

    The purpose of Government is to protect us from the use – or threat of force against us. This is why we have a concept of individual rights. A right is a moral principle which defines and sanctions a persons freedom of action in a social setting. It is a recognition of the fact that we exist and operate by a certain means (reason), that we require certain values in order to live and therefore we need to be free from force and coercion in order to think rationally so that we may obtain those values. We must be free to think, speak and act on our own judgment. That's why the US constitution refers to the fact that Governments are erected to protect the rights of men – the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    Animals, plants and inanimate objects do not operate by reason. Animals operate by reflex, instinct and automatic responses to stimuli, and I won't even comment on the differences between humans and plants because that should be self-evident.

    A river or lake does not have a requirement for political rights. It does not live. It does not reason. Unlike the nature of life, a rive cannot die. Matter may take on new forms but it is only life that has the fundamental alternative between life or death. Matter cannot go out of existence, but life can.

    The only purpose for granting political rights to inanimate objects is to prevent and restrict some men and women from using inanimate matter to further their own life in some way i.e. to restrict/limit our ability to survive and to flourish. The purpose of such an idea is to elevate the metaphysical importance of inanimate matter above that of human beings and our requirements of survival.

    This is motivated by the moral code of altruism i.e. the placing of something else above oneself. If you believe in altruism; if you believe in self-sacrifice and the placing of something else, something outside of you, above your own life what could be more moral than putting inanimate matter before yourself? Absolutely nothing. This is why altruism is an anti-life, anti-human code of morality. Everywhere it is practise, to the extent that it practised, results in the mass loss of human life. The two most consistent exponents of altruism in the last 100yrs were the Communists – who demanded that you sacrifice yourself the the collective proletariat, and the National Socialists who demanded that you sacrifice yourself to the Volk. Look how that turned out.

    Rooting Out the Motive of “Plant Rights” Advocates:
    https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2012/11/rooting-out-the-motive-of-plant-rights-advocates/

  26. Why shouldn't all parts of the universe have the same rights as humans then?
    Man, are we coming up with some silly stuff now. Kids have impressive imaginations too, it doesn't mean we should take every idea as a scientific theorem.

  27. Some Ted talks are stupid some Ted talks are really stupid and then there’s Ted talks like this one that don’t even have the word in existence to describe them… Egregiously stupid?

  28. One Race: Prances, dances, beats on a drum, and prays to a "Rain God" for water & thinks water is ALIVE
    One Race: Creates the Industrial Revolution, uses pumps, pipes, and chemicals to distribute and treat their water because they KNOW water is DEAD

  29. One of the BEST water talks I have seen to this point. You are a tremendous leader Kelsey. Please ignore the mindless, heartless, clueless, thoughtless trolls here. You are doing wonderful things and are making a difference to help save our children and their children's children's lives.

  30. Dear Kelsey, I can understand your feelings about nature as I love the nature too. But your idea to give water a legal rights & status as human being is not acceptable.

    The reason is if corporations have legal status of person then it also have some responsibility. You can sue the corporations but can't sue the water, air etc.

    Are you getting my point?

    Yes, we can protect water from various types of polutions by practicing eco friendly lifestyle as much as we could but unless you give ideas to sue water in court, your this idea to give water as status of person is worthless.

  31. I mean if companies can be considered entities in the eyes of the law I don’t see why not these can’t

  32. Ask the Quebec government and the Trudeau Government, why raw sewage is dumped into the St. Lawrence River. Ask the Trudeau Government why they STILL haven't cleaned up the mercury poisoning some tribes water supply. They give many millions to 'other countries' which go, who knows where, [as there is zero accountability] and they don't fix their own country's problems. Companies who mine for resources should be forced in their mandate to fully describe how the waste matter will be disposed of. They should be regularly monitored to see if they are in compliance. Huge penalties for non-compliance.

  33. This looks like the beginning of a propaganda campaign to justify governments being able to tax water as a luxury good…

  34. OK – many crisis…. and what? As long as you get teached bs in public schools, nothing ever will change.

  35. Wonder, what those audience thought – when under this video the balance nearly fits: thumb up 274 thumb down 263 – have given down for such blablabla to get more balance here 🙂

  36. Nobody gives a damn about your indigenous people history bullcrap. Modern men have their own problems being overshadowed by fallible minority victimization.

  37. Sarcasm shows only ignorance about the issue. Imaging you are in the situation of severely degraded water quality and water quantity, would you still disagree this lady’s proposal? It takes courage to deliver this unpopular but advanced concept. Peace, be nice to me and the lady. 🙂

  38. Water is our most precious commodity. I totally agree with her that each person on this planet should use water responsibly. Polluting water with industrial waste is criminal. FROM CAPE TOWN

  39. come on sister, You know who the JUST-US system is for!!!
    Sister, do your research and You will find out why they are POISONING OUR WATER
    THEY can MAKE FRESH WATER from the OCEANS.

  40. People aren't murdering each other to use a damn hose.. yet people die each day for the rings on their fingers. And fyi water physically cannot retain a conversion in any way…………

  41. Apparently race dictates whether or not you can legally buy hand sanitizer, oh wait that's wrong, what dictates if you have access to water or sanitary environments IS IF YOU GET A JOB OR NOT.. TED=foolishness… #blocked

  42. Now that we have been through all this with these people, their actions are predictable. They always come in behind a movement and try an leverage some exception as a way to make bigger changes that gives them an opportunity to crash the system. Entryism is how one person described it in Europe. Deconstruction is a better term. All you really need to know is that it is evil.

  43. She's a coward. There's only one people who are being oppressed that isn't afraid to tell it like it is…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *