Native Village 
Youth and Education News

October 2012

New Zealand Grants a River the Rights of Personhood
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Condensed by Native Village


New Zealand: Throughout time, cultures across the world have regarded Earth’s life-giving rivers as living beings.   In modern times, humans have a more clinical view.  That might be changing once again.

Meet the Whanganui. You might call it a river, but in the eyes of the law, it has the standings of a person.

In a landmark case for the Rights of Nature, New Zealand has granted
the Whanganui with legal personhood "in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests”.

The decision follows a long court battle initiated by the Whanganui River iwi, an indigenous community with strong cultural ties to the waterway.

Under the settlement, the river is regarded as a protected entity. Representatives from both the iwi and the government will serve as legal custodians.

"Today’s agreement which recognizes the status of the river as
Te Awa Tupua  (an integrated, living whole),"  said Christopher Finlayson, New Zealand Treaty Minister.  "... The inextricable relationship of iwi with the river is a major step towards the resolution of the historical grievances of Whanganui iwi and is important nationally,”

“Whanganui  Iwi also recognize the value others place on the river and wanted  to ensure that all stakeholders and the river community as a whole are actively engaged in developing the long-term future of the river and ensuring  its wellbeing.”

This may be the first time a single river has been granted such legal distinction, but it may not be the last.  In 2008, Ecuador gave its forests, lakes, and waterways rights on par with humans to protect them from harmful practices

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