An Indigenous nation is turning to a novel legal tactic to try and save its beleaguered salmon population.
The tribe is suing the city of Seattle on the salmon’s behalf, alleging that dams preventing it from migrating are a violation of the fish’s “inherent rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve”.
The salmon, called TsuladxW in the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe’s Lushootseed language, are named plaintiffs in the case. The dammed rivers in Washington state no longer provide enough salmon for the tribe to conduct all of their ceremonies, let alone feed their members, and scientists have determined that nearby dams are hurting the salmon population.
The tribe is arguing that the dams are violating TsuladxW’s fourth amendment right to be free from illegal seizures and their due process rights.
The lawsuit is part of the growing “rights of nature” movement around the world, that seeks to give natural entities, like rivers or plants or animals, similar legal rights to humans. It has already proved successful on several other occasions. For example, Ecuador granted legal rights to all natural beings in its constitution in 2008 and an Indian court gave legal personhood to two rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna, in 2017. Last year, in a world-first law, one of the planet's most remote rainforests in New Zealand was granted the same legal status as people.
However, the rights of nature movement has only recently gained traction in the United States so it will be interesting to see how this case turns out.
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