New Zealand’s Whanganui River Gets Personhood Status
ENS, 13 September 2012

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND: New Zealand’s longest navigable river, the Whanganui, has been given “legal standing and an independent voice” under a framework agreement to settle the historical claims of indigenous people, the Whanganui Iwi. Although the agreement does not state specifically that the river will have the same rights under law as a corporation, a spokesman for the government minister who negotiated the settlement said the Whanganui will be recognized as a person when it comes to the law, “in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests.” “Today’s agreement, which recognizes the status of the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole) and 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,” Minister Christopher Finlayson said. The agreement reached so far recognize the status of the river, appoint a river guardian, and provide for developing river values and a whole of river strategy. It does not conclude settlement negotiations. Matters of detail and additional redress are still to be negotiated between the parties.

The river is of special and spiritual importance for Māori, who call it Te Awa Tupua. In pre-European times, many Māori villages dotted the river banks. The Whanganui has been one of the most fiercely contested regions in claims before the Waitangi Tribunal for the return of tribal lands. The Whanganui River claim is the longest-running legal case in New Zealand history with petitions and court action since the 1930s. Read the article … Read a National Geographic article on the issue … Read a New Zealand Herald news item …