New Zealand river becomes first in world to be given legal status of a person

Waterway of spiritual significance to Maori people is recognised as living entity with own rights

Chloe Farand
Wednesday 15 March 2017 11:10 GMT
A Maori crew on the Whanganui river during Prince Harry's visit to New Zealand
A Maori crew on the Whanganui river during Prince Harry's visit to New Zealand

A river in New Zealand has become the first in the world to be recognised as a living entity with its own rights and values and given the legal status of a person.

The Whanganui River, located in the north island of New Zealand, has a special and spiritual importance for the Maori people.

The New Zealand Parliament has just passed a bill which gives the river the ability to represent itself through human representatives, one appointed by a Maori community, known as Iwi, and one by the Crown, New Zealand news service Newshub reports.

The new status of the Whanganui River, or Te Awa Tupua, is believed to be unique in the world.

The Maori people recognise the river as part of the living mountains and the sea.

Chris Finlayson, who negotiated the treaty, said the Whanganui Iwi had fought for recognition of the people’s relationship with the river since the 1870s.

"Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person," he told Newshub.

"I know some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality, but it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies, or incorporated societies."

The Whanganui River is the third longest in the country and its new official status is part of the conclusion to a long-running legal dispute.

The bill includes an $80m (£65m) financial redress and the government will also contribute $30m (£26m) to a fund for looking after the river’s health and wellbeing.

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