A win/win for culture, and for the earth. It doesn’t happen every day.
But following the longest-running litigation in the country’s history, the Whanganui River in New Zealand (or Aotearoa’s) North Island will be treated as a human being in the eyes of the law.
A group of Māori people known as the Whanganui Iwi have fought for their relationship with the river to be recognised by law (known to them as Te Awa Tupua), since the 1870s.
The bill recognising the river passed on Wednesday, and Te Awa Tupua will now have all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. The river can also now be represented in court.
“I know the initial inclination of some people will say it’s pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality,” Treaty Negotiations Minister, Chris Finlayson, told the New Zealand Herald.
“But it’s no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies.”
The country’s third-longest river, be represented by one member from Whanganui Iwi and another from New Zealand’s government.
“It responds to the view of the Iwi of the Whanganui River, which has long recognised Te Awa Tupua through its traditions, customs and practise,” Finlayson said in a statement.
“This legislation recognises the deep spiritual connection between the Whanganui Iwi and its ancestral river and creates a strong platform for the future of Whanganui River.”
As part of the deal, a financial redress of NZ$80 million ($56 million) is included in the settlement, while NZ$30 million ($21 million) will be placed in a health and wellbeing fund.