|March 17, 2017|
For the first time in New Zealand’s history, the country’s lawmakers have granted a river the legal rights of a human. The parliamentary vote Wednesday, which caps more than 140 years of legal struggles, ensures the roughly 90-mile Whanganui River will be represented by two guardians in legal matters that concern the waterway.
The legislation marks a monumental victory for the local Māori people, who view the river as “an indivisible and living whole,” Gerrard Albert, lead negotiator for the Whanganui tribe, tells The Telegraph. “It has been a long, hard battle” to earn legal recognition of the river, which is known by the Māori as Te Awa Tupua.
Under that name, the river will be appointed representatives — one each from the tribe and the government — in court proceedings. And the BBC notes the settlement also includes $80 million in financial redress and $30 million toward improving the river’s health.
“It’s not that we’ve changed our worldview, but people are catching up to seeing things the way that we see them,” Adrian Rurawhe, a Māori member of Parliament, tells the New Zealand Herald.