Parks as Persons: Legal Innovation Or Colonial Appropriation?

Research output: Working paper


This Article, considers personhood, a mechanism that has been used in other jurisdictions — including cities — to legally reconfigure land ownership.Te Urewara, once a national park in New Zealand, the Atrato River in Colombia, and the Magpie and Fraser Rivers in Canada became legal “persons” after decades of advocacy by Indigenous Peoples. These natural resources now have rights, a new material and representational making of property that centres a governance role for Indigenous Peoples. This Article asks what personhood could mean for Stanley Park and for Canadian urban parks more broadly. In particular, it explores whether personhood is a legal innovation that reshapes property or, instead, whether it perpetuates the colonial appropriation in the existing legal framework. With the notion that property sets out power over the owned objects, but also the owning subjects, the Article first goes back in time to explore the legal technicalities used by municipal bodies to claim power over Stanley Park. Moving forward to today, this Article advocates for a commitment to the nuances of local Indigenous-led movements and specific Indigenous laws, and knowledge and attention to the colonial structures that form existing property rights and governance models within local governments, rather than a quick attachment to potentially emancipatory forms of property. This Article proceeds in four parts. Part I provides background on the legal history of Stanley Park, located in Vancouver, Canada, with a focus on the displacement of the original Indigenous inhabitants. Part II examines parks as a unique legal space, explaining initiatives taken by local government to acknowledge colonialism and displacement. Part III explores recent efforts across the world to recognize the rights of nature for resources such as rivers and parks. In Part IV, the Article examines what it would mean for Stanley Park to be granted personhood status and, in particular, whether this action would be represent a legal innovation that would legitimately recognize Indigenous laws.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2022

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