In what is believed to be a world first, a New Zealand river has been recognized by parliament as a legal person.
The Whanganui River, located on the north island of New Zealand, is the 3rd longest river in NZ. It also has a special and spiritual importance for the Maori people who had been fighting for over 160 years to get recognition for their river.
Now, finally, they have it.
From now on the river’s interests will be represented by two people. In practical terms, it means that the river will be represented at legal proceedings with two lawyers protecting its interests: one from the Maori tribes, known as iwi, and one from the Crown.
“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 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 well-being of the river is directly linked to the well-being of the people and so it is really important that’s recognized as its own identity.”
Maori community Members celebrated the news with tears and music in New Zealand’s parliament.
The settlement included $80m (£65m) in financial redress and $30m (£25m) to a fund to improve the river’s health.