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Kelsey Leonard


6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Social Studies, Earth and Space Sciences, Civics, Health

Resource Type

  • Videos, 13 minutes, 12 seconds, CC, Subtitles

Regional Focus

Global, North America, United States, USA - West, USA - Midwest, California, Michigan, Colorado


Downloadable MP4/M4V

Why Lakes and Rivers Should Have the Same Rights as Humans

Ask a Question

  • In this video, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation makes the argument that water should have legal personhood to ensure its health and the health of all people for years to come, citing examples where people of color have had disproportionate access to clean water, as in Flint, Michigan, Colorado, and Palm Springs, California.
  • Dr. Leonard explains that some bodies of water have been granted legal personhood, protecting them from pollution, contaminants, and other human-caused problems. 
  • The video discusses the Mississippi, Ganges, and Klamath Rivers, and the Great Lakes.
Teaching Tips


  • The speaker uses photographs and infographics to illustrate her points.
  • This video is engaging, and the argument is well-planned and executed.
  • Dr. Leonard gives many solutions and explains many actionable ways to help. The resource also includes links to more information.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should have a basic understanding of climate change and water scarcity.
  • It would be beneficial for students to know the history of oppression that Indigenous people have faced in the United States and globally.


  • This video touches on aspects of climate change, civics, law, history, and science, making it a great resource to use in any of these classes.
  • History classes could use this video when learning about the history of Indigenous People in the United States, and students could compare and contrast their treatment by the government in the past and present.
  • Science classes could use this video when discussing climate change and possible solutions.
Scientist Notes
In the United States, a corporation can be granted the rights of a person under the law. Not unrelated, Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color are most likely to be affected by polluted water. In this TED Talk, Kelsey Leonard makes the case for granting legal personhood to water. This resource is recommended for teaching.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.
      • HS-ESS3-3 Create a computational simulation to illustrate the relationships among management of natural resources, the sustainability of human populations, and biodiversity.
  • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
    • Dimension 2: Civics
      • D2.Civ.12.6-8 Assess specific rules and laws (both actual and proposed) as means of addressing public problems.
      • D2.Civ.12.9-12 Analyze how people use and challenge local, state, national, and international laws to address a variety of public issues.
      • D2.Civ.5.9-12 Evaluate citizens' and institutions' effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.
    • Dimension 2: History
      • D2.His.2.6-8 Classify series of historical events and developments as examples of change and/or continuity.
    • Dimension 4: Taking Informed Action
      • D4.7.6-8 Assess their individual and collective capacities to take action to address local, regional, and global problems, taking into account a range of possible levers of power, strategies, and potential outcomes.
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