New Zealand river granted same legal status as a person

The Whanganui River has important spiritual significance for the local Maori population

New Zealand river granted same legal status as a person

Whanganui River between Pipiriki and Jerusalem. Image via Wikimedia Commons

In an historic move, a river in New Zealand has been granted the same legal rights as a person.

Legislation has passed through the country's parliament which recognises the Whanganui River as an "indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea".

The new laws will guarantee the river its own "legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities" of a person.

Whanganui River - the country's third-longest river, and also known as Te Awa Tupua - has significant spiritual importance for the local Maori population.

The agreement marks the end of an almost 150 year battle by the local tribe to have its relationship with the river legally recognised.

In a statement, Chris Finlayson - New Zealand's Attorney-General and Treaty Negotiations Minister - said the bill brings the longest running litigation in the country's history to an end.

"The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique," Mr Finlayson explained. "It responds to the view of the iwi [tribe] of the Whanganui River which has long recognised Te Awa Tupua through its traditions, customs and practise.

"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."

Quoted by the Wanganui Chronicle, Adrian Rurawhe - the member of parliament for the Maori electorate - said that treating the river as a person is not unusual in Maori culture, as the "wellbeing of the river was directly linked to the wellbeing of the people".

Citing a Maori saying that states "I am the river and the river is me", Mr Rurawhe added: "It's not that we've changed our worldview, but people are catching up to seeing things the way that we see them."

The deal also inludes financial redress of $80 million (€52 million), and a $30 million (€20 million) contribution towards a fund to "further the health and wellbeing of the Whanganui River".