To the Maori people on New Zealands’ north island, the Whanganui River is a living entity and has been so for many decades. After 160 years of fighting for recognition, the 3rd biggest river in the country has now been announced a legal person. “I know the initial inclination of some people will say it’s pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality,” said New Zealand’s Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson. “But it’s no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies.”
The Whanganui River, New Zealand’s third-longest, will be represented by one member from the Maori tribes, known as iwi, and one from the Crown. The biggest virtue of this change in legislation is that the river can be represented in court proceedings, which makes it a lot easier to defend it’s rights and the importance to the tribal people of New Zealand.
“The river as a whole is absolutely important to the people who are from the river and live on the river,” said MP Adrian Rurawhe, who represents the Maori. “From a Whanganui viewpoint the wellbeing of the river is directly linked to the wellbeing of the people and so it is really important that’s recognised as its own identity.” Members of the Maori community celebrated the news with tears and music in New Zealand’s parliament.