The Komi Memem River has been crucial to the livelihood of the Oro Waram people in the Western Amazon for generations. But deforestation, land-robbers and pesticide pollution from expanding nearby farms threatens the very survival of the river.

That’s why the Amazon city of Guajara-Mirim passed a new law designating the river, also known as Laje, “as a living entity and subject to rights,” The Associated Press reported.

A new approach to protecting rivers

The legislation, which passed in June of this year, makes the Komi Memem the first river in the Amazon rainforest to be granted legal personhood.

Under the new law, the endangered river and its tributaries are considered “living entities with rights, ranging from maintaining their natural flow to having the forest around them protected,” according to The Associated Press.

The law also provides for a committee of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members to monitor and give annual reports on the river.

Francisco Oro Waram, the Indigenous councilman who proposed the legislation, sees it as a new approach to protecting the river from land-robbers who have illegally deforested and farmed the surrounding land.

“We are further organizing ourselves to fend off invaders,” Oro Waram told The Associated Press. “We can’t fight with arrows; we have to use the laws.”

Other rivers granted personhood

The Komi Memem River is not the first river to be granted personhood status.

In fact, the new legislation is part of a growing movement led by Indigenous groups to protect rivers by giving them legal personhood.

In 2017, New Zealand set a legal precedent when it granted personhood status to the Whanganui River in an $80 million settlement with a Māori nation.

A portrait of the Colorado River

Bangladesh followed suit by declaring that every river in the country would have the same legal rights as humans, per Reuters.

In 2021, the Magpie River — also known as Mutuhekau Shipu to the Innu First Nation — in Quebec, Canada, gained legal personhood, giving the river several rights, including the right to sue (through its appointed guardians), National Geographic reported.